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[Paper Spotlight] Evidence for the Adaptive Learning Function of Work and Work-Themed Play among Aka

A new paper by Sheina Lew-Levy and Adam Boyette explores the learning function of play among Aka foragers and Ngandu farmers. Check it out here!

Abstract: Work-themed play may allow children to learn complex skills, and ethno-typical and gender-typical behaviors. Thus, play may have made important contributions to the evolution of childhood through the development of embodied capital. Using data from Aka foragers and Ngandu farmer children from the Central African Republic, we ask whether children perform ethno- and gender-typical play and work activities, and whether play prepares children for complex work. Focal follows of 50 Aka and 48 Ngandu children were conducted with the aim of recording children’s participation in 12 categories of work and work-themed play. Using these data, we test a set of hypotheses regarding how age, gender, ethnicity, and task complexity influence children’s activities. As hypothesized, we find performance of work-themed play is negatively correlated with age. Contrary to our hypothesis, children do not play more than they work at complex tasks, but they work more than they play at simple ones. Gender and ethnicity are associated with play and work at culturally salient activities, despite availability of other-gender and other-ethnicity social partners. Our findings show that ethnic and gender biases are apparent in the play and work behavior of Aka and Ngandu children. Moreover, our results show that play helps both forager and farmer children learn complex skills, consistent with play having an adaptive learning function. 

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