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[Paper spotlight] Costly teaching contributes to the acquisition of spear hunting skill among BaYaka

This new paper — from FCS folks Sheina Lew-Levy, Annemieke Milks, and Tanya Broesch — focuses on the acquisition of spear hunting skill among BaYaka youth.

Abstract: Teaching likely evolved in humans to facilitate the faithful transmission of complex tasks. As the oldest evidenced hunting technology, spear hunting requires acquiring several complex physical and cognitive competencies. In this study, we used observational and interview data collected among BaYaka foragers (Republic of the Congo) to test the predictions that costlier teaching types would be observed at a greater frequency than less costly teaching in the domain of spear hunting and that teachers would calibrate their teaching to pupil skill level. To observe naturalistic teaching during spear hunting, we invited teacher–pupil groupings to spear hunt while wearing GoPro cameras. We analysed 68 h of footage totalling 519 teaching episodes. Most observed teaching events were costly. Direct instruction was the most frequently observed teaching type. Older pupils received less teaching and more opportunities to lead the spear hunt than their younger counterparts. Teachers did not appear to adjust their teaching to pupil experience, potentially because age was a more easily accessible heuristic for pupil skill than experience. Our study shows that costly teaching is frequently used to transmit complex tasks and that instruction may play a privileged role in the transmission of spear hunting knowledge.


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