Titles & Abstracts

Nurit Bird-David (Anthropology, University of Haifa)

Setting or mind-setting?: a study of a South Indian hunter-gatherer camp

ABSTRACT: Given anthropological theories of how houses reflect and regenerate symbolic schemes, I discuss in this presentation what, if anything, can be learnt about hunter-gatherers' perceptions of their worlds from their materially simple dwellings and belongings. My assumption is that these dwellings look to us as temporary shelters that are scarcely equipped. But for their dwellers, traditionally, they represented a permanent and adequate way of dwelling. I ask, therefore, what cultural values and senses of self and inter-personal relations do these artifacts embody and regenerate? What symbolic schemes are shown and reproduced by them? I draw on a long-term study of an indigenous forest people in the Nilgiri-Wynaad who, when this study began in the late 1970s, still partially maintained hunting and gathering traditions.

Gergely Csibra (Psychology, Central European University)

Cognitive resources for learning about artefacts in human infants

ABSTRACT: Even if we assume that human infants conceive the prototypical artefacts in their environment (tools, furniture, vehicles, clothing, weapons etc.) in terms of their function, they face a non-trivial task when they are confronted with novel artefacts to which they have to assign functions. I will discuss two kinds of cognitive resources that infants can utilize in such situations. Teleological reasoning, which is also used for action understanding, can inform the child what an object (or an action) is 'good for' by assuming a certain amount of optimality of design. In addition, the genericity expectation that infants apply for the interpretation of communication directed to them can make them represent communicatively demonstrated causal dispositional properties of artefacts as their kind-relevant functional attributes. These cognitive resources support learning infants' about artefact function.

Emma Flynn (Psychology, Durham University)

Investigating social learning and cultural transmission in young children

ABSTRACT: When a child witnesses another person produce a behaviour that is not currently in the observer's repertoire, what elements of this scene are attended to and reproduced? Similarly, when such novel behaviour is presented in a group context, does it spread, and if so, how? In my talk I will present three themes in my current research. Initially, I'll present work which investigates what children extract from observing another person undertaking a complex task, reflecting on whether the hierarchical level detail, the style of object manipulation or the overall goal is reproduced (Flynn & Whiten, 2008a). Within this theme I'll also be presenting current work that investigates to what extent children can learn from the mechanical properties of a task alone, through the use of the Ghost control condition (Hopper, Flynn, Wood & Whiten, 2010). For the second theme I'll be presenting work which investigates whether children reproduce actions that are redundant to the goal of a task, looking at whether the reproduction of redundant behaviour spreads along diffusion chains (generations of dyadic interactions, where the learner in a dyad becomes the model for the subsequent learner; Flynn, 2008), and whether the reproduction of causally-irrelevant actions is affected by the identity (age: adult versus peer) or knowledge state (knowledgeable about task versus ignorant about task) of the model. Finally, I'll present work which I have undertaken to explore how behaviours are spread across groups of children, using both the diffusion chain method (Flynn & Whiten 2008b; Flynn 2008), and the open diffusion design (where a skilled model is presented, along with the task, to a group of task-naive individuals; Flynn & Whiten, 2010; Whiten & Flynn, 2010).

Ori Friedman (Psychology, University of Waterloo)

Principle-based Reasoning about Ownership in Young Children

ABSTRACT: Ownership is invisible and abstract. It is not possible to directly perceive whether an object is owned, who (if anyone) owns the object, nor the implications ownership has for which actions in regards to the object are permissible. Nonetheless, young children make judgments about ownership—for instance they are able to judge who owns an object. It might be expected that young children's judgments reflect simple associations relating ownership to concrete aspects of the environment. Against this I report evidence from three lines of research on children's ownership judgments, suggesting in each case that children's ownership judgment may instead be based on abstract principles, such as the principle that who owns an object now depend on events that occurred in the past.

Susan Gelman (Psychology, University of Michigan)

The non-obvious basis of ownership: tracing the history and value of owned objects

ABSTRACT: An important but understudied aspect of artefacts is that they are understood not only with respect to their current features (perceptual, functional, affective, etc.) but also with respect to their histories--when the object was created, where the object came from, or who has owned the object previously. We have been studying how preschool children and adults link artefacts to their histories, by focusing on concepts of ownership. Ownership history is relevant both for determining current owners and for conferring value ("endowment effect"). In a series of studies, participants saw toy-sets in which toys were assigned to owners, then scrambled in position, and participants were either asked to identify the owners or asked to indicate which objects had greater value. Participants at all ages used object history to determine ownership, even when doing so required close tracking of spatiotemporal cues or searching for non-obvious traces (analogous to dusting for fingerprints). Furthermore, participants at all ages showed an endowment effect (greater liking of items that were designated as their own). Thus, by 2 years of age children appreciate the non-obvious basis of ownership. We conclude that children, like adults, place value on the historical path of objects, expecting objects to leave a visible “trace”, and treat historical path as a critical feature in determining ownership.

Robert Layton (Anthropology, Durham University)

Continuity and innovation in the transmission of traditional Chinese culture

ABSTRACT: The paper outlines the social forces influencing continuity or innovation in the traditional arts of Shandong Province, China. These are addressed under five headings:

1. The relative flexibility of material media

2. The gender based transmission of skills

3. Combined with the purpose of production:

(a) Male arts primarily produced for market, with 100s of years of market tradition;

(b) Female arts primarily for domestic consumption (although surplus cotton cloth has long been traded to increase family income), among which the daughter's trousseau is an important component.

4. Disruption caused by he mid-20th century "social movements" caused an enforced break in almost all crafts.

5. The acceptability of the arts to the intended audience (new but traditional themes in toys and woodblocks), and the movement toward fine art.

Barbara Malt (Psychology, Lehigh University)

Naming artifacts: patterns and processes

ABSTRACT: Nouns such as knife, fork, box, and bench that name artifacts are applied to diverse sets of objects that can’t be fully predicted by any single type of dimension. I will argue that explaining the complexity of artifact naming patterns requires considering both how name extensions evolve over time and how the goal-driven nature of communication contributes to labeling choices by speakers. Because of these influences, an account of artifact naming will differ from an account of how people conceptualize the objects non-linguistically. The complexity of naming patterns is not readily explained away by trying to limit the range of exemplars that should count in the analysis of a given name, because principled bases for limitations are lacking. The social nature of communication mitigates this complexity in language use: Interactions between speakers and addressees help ensure that artifact nouns in discourse are interpreted as intended despite the wide range of objects each can encompass. However, the complexity is further manifested in substantial variability in naming patterns for the same sets of objects across different languages. I will illustrate how this cross-linguistic variability poses special challenges for the child language learner, learners of multiple languages, and researchers interested in understanding how language may influence thought.

Aimee Plourde (Philosophy, University of Sheffield)

Artefacts’ as signals of strength in political competition; a case study of landscape monuments from the Late Bronze Age Anatolian Plateau

ABSTRACT: While increasing ability to create and use artefacts was undoubtedly one of the most significant adaptations of the early hominins, it could be argued that artefacts played -- and continue to play -- an even more critical role in later human society and evolutionary success. Over the course of human history, artefacts expanded from fairly simple "utilitarian" objects to include a wide range of "social functions" including art, ideology, and social status ranking. In the case of the last, it has been widely argued that the display of artefacts in the form of prestige goods and wealth items played a significant role in the formation and expansion of political hierarchy and economic inequality. It has generally been suggested that they do so by acting as signals of political and economic strength during competition. Using an explicit costly signaling framework, I will present a specific example of this general and possibly universal proposition, in the form of landscape monuments from the Late Bronze Age Period of the Anatolian Plateau (the Hittite Empire). Contrary to previous interpretations, we argue that these monuments are not commemorative of Hittite hegemony, but are a medium through which ongoing territorial contests are moderated.

Jamie Tehrani (Anthropology, Durham University)

Phylogenetic approaches to the transmission of material culture: current trends and future directions

ABSTRACT: Like genes and languages, many material culture traditions exhibit strong heritable continuities through time. Phylogenetic analyses of tool and craft assemblages suggest that the evolution of some skills and styles can be traced back hundreds, or even thousands, of years. The reconstruction of these lineages can provide useful insights into the dispersals and interactions of populations, but also affords an opportunity to study long-term processes of cultural transmission, mutation and selection. Drawing on exisiting studies of cultural transmission, I will sketch out some very general hypotheses about possible trends in artistic evolution, and discuss how they might be tested in a phylogenetic context.