The evolution of the play instinct, gender difference and peer-based learning

edited May 8 in Other stuff
A bit of personal interest here.

By complete chance I've just seen the BBC2 programme "Nature's Weidest Events"... Clicky,

Overall I found it simply entertaining.
However the last item concerned a troop of chimpanzees in Uganda, which some primatologist dude, Richard Wrangham has been studying. His observations touched several matters of keen interest to me. Completely unexpected. It kicks in at 46 minutes on the link above.

The good Dr. Wrangham has observed that younger chimpanzees will often select a rock or a stick, take possession of it and begin to cherish it: carrying it on their back, holding it and building a small nest for it. Wrangham has never witnessed an adult chimp engaging in this activity or demonstrating the activity to young chimps. The youngest chimps appear to pick it up by watching older juveniles. Both genders engage in this behaviour, but Wrangham has observed 3 times as many instances of this behaviour in females than males. Females stop displaying this behaviour once they have their first baby.
As someone who works with young kids, the idea that the evolution of this kind of object and imaginative play predates humanity is not something that I have considered before. I love the idea that the only significant thing that differentiates a chimp-child nursing a rock and a human-child nursing a doll is a technological one (i.e. the ability of humans to create more lifelike surrogate babies). I will certainly be using the video on one of my training sessions that touches (albeit briefly) on the (evolutionary) functions of play in human children.

The gender difference observed by Wrangham is what I would expect (my being a devotee of evolutionary psychology), but it's always useful to see more evidence of this. At the same time, important to note that male rock-doll play is not zero. As Wrangham points out chimp fathers do have some parental role, and do take responsibility for carrying baby chimps (if not as much as mothers). As is often the case, evolution results in gender roles being somewhat different; not dichotomous.

I absolutely love that the rock-doll play is passed on peer-to-peer through the generations, with apparently zero adult input. Absolutely love that. Probably a minor point for many people, but it ties in perfectly with what I understand to be the case with regard to the importance of peer culture (vis-à-vis adult influence) in human child development. In fact I shed a little tear when that came up in the programme.
It would be interesting to understand a bit more about the relationship between the instinct to play "mummies and daddies" and the environmental learning that gives form to this instinct.

I notice another short vid involving Dr Wrangham's chimp rock-dolls here. Not quite as good or detailed, but still worthwhile.

Anyway, Amazing what one can find by chance. :-)

Comments

  • As much your post was pointing out a very interesting behavioural trait that is possibly innate in more of nature, your use of "dichotomous" was the stand out. A word I haven't heard since my school days, a favourite of both my history and biology teachers.
    Always pleasing to hear or read some decent vocabulary!
  • cj66 said:

    As much your post was pointing out a very interesting behavioural trait that is possibly innate in more of nature, your use of "dichotomous" was the stand out. A word I haven't heard since my school days, a favourite of both my history and biology teachers.
    Always pleasing to hear or read some decent vocabulary!

    Thanks.
    Tho apologies for being so stereotypical. I am a qualified teacher, with history qualifications and a keen interest in biology. :-D
  • Have been excited about seeing this since I read the post this a.m. No TV licence either, so had to sweet talk a kindly neighbour into letting me use their iplayer ! (even managed to blag a cuppa out of her).
    Really appreciated the heads up on this one - though some warning for the sensitive vegan types amongst us on the reindeer genocide would've been helpful ! The sight of a starving baby reindeer attempting to suckle from a dead mother is something I could've done without thanks Doc.
    But, I did think that opening Weird event linked nicely with the chimp story. In that the reindeer survivors were, from the report, almost all infants that were only just capable of surviving without their mother. So the population is going to be pretty much one generation, surviving on genetic and peer influences. Would love to know how that works out.
    The chimps were great. So determined with those rocks, which were doing nothing to help cling on to their backs at all! I think nurturing goosegrass would be an easier option as it at least has a sticking factor. I really liked the guy's analogy (Wrangham?) about rules for conkers being known by kids, but forgotten /  not known by adults. It's a great reminder of how in some ways adults and kids are co-existing, but our shared worlds are actually incredibly different experiences. I love those moments ay my work where kids (little uns or teenagers) just look at me as an adult as if I must be so dumb because I dont know the rules of a game, or the meaning of a word they are using. Fantastic!
    Thanks Doc.
  • Btw, am not, of course, suggesting reindeer have socially cooperative brains like primates!
  • The reindeer bit was near to the beginning, I assume? I didn't see that bit.
    Apologies.
    Although, In my original post, I did give the start time of the chimp bit (46 mins) as there was the live-bird-eating mice bit, so I made some effort!
    I'd forgotten the conker analogy. A good one.
    Ultimately, yes. Many adults and parents vastly, vastly overestimate the impact of so many (not all) of their roles. Kids do exist in different worlds for some of their time.
Sign In or Register to comment.