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Theory of mind and teaching in ni-Vanuatu children

Brandl, Eva; (2021) Theory of mind and teaching in ni-Vanuatu children. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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While culture is common in the animal kingdom, cumulative culture appears to be limited to humans. Research suggests that this is due to (1) our advanced social cognition, in particular joint attention and Theory of Mind; and (2) our reliance on high-fidelity mechanisms of social learning such as teaching. However, some have argued that these mechanisms are themselves culturally transmitted, vary across cultures, and that contact with Western norms and institutions reshapes cognition in small-scale societies. These proposals require us to test whether developmental trajectories observed in industrialized populations translate to other societies. To this end, I examine the development of Theory of Mind and teaching among children living in rural areas of Vanuatu. In Chapter 2, I combine results from participant observations and informal interviews to explore the ethnographic context. I examine kinship systems, childrearing practices, and worldviews, and discuss how they relate to folk models of the mind and cultural transmission. In Chapter 3, I examine the development of Theory of Mind and mental state talk. Consistent with the idea that Theory of Mind is culturally learnt, the results diverge from Western findings. However, they also contradict earlier studies and point to methodological challenges, urging more caution in the interpretation of cross-cultural work. In Chapter 4, I examine the development of teaching. The results diverge from Western findings, with children’s teaching reflecting local norms and perceptions of cultural transmission. This suggests that while teaching as such is developmentally reliable, specific teaching styles, along with the way we conceptualize teaching, may be culturally learnt. In Chapter 5, I explore various socio-economic and demographic trends associated with ‘modernization’, such as market integration, formal education, overseas travel, and household structure, documenting considerable heterogeneity. However, I failed to find support for the idea that transformations associated with ‘Westernization’ shift children’s cognitive development.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Theory of mind and teaching in ni-Vanuatu children
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10138335
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