Journal Article


Machiavellian strategist or cultural learner? Mentalizing and learning over development in a resource sharing game

Abstract

Theorists have sought to identify the key selection pressures that drove the evolution of our species’ cognitive abilities, life histories and cooperative inclinations. Focusing on two leading theories, each capable of accounting for many of the rapid changes in our lineage, we present a simple experiment designed to assess the explanatory power of both the Machiavellian Intelligence and the Cultural Brain/Intelligence Hypotheses. Children (aged 3-7 years) observed a novel social interaction that provided them with behavioral information that could either be used to outmaneuver a partner in subsequent interactions or for cultural learning. The results show that, even after f our rounds of repeated interaction and sometimes lower payoffs, children continued to rely on copying the observed behavior instead of harnessing the available social information to strategically extract payoffs (stickers) from their partners. Analyses further reveal that superior mentalizing abilities are associated with more targeted cultural learning—the selective copying of fewer irrelevant actions—while superior generalized cognitive abilities are associated with greater imitation of irrelevant actions. Neither mentalizing capacities nor more general measures of cognition explain children’s ability to strategically use social information to maximize payoffs. These results provide developmental evidence favoring the Cultural Brain/Intelligence Hypothesis over the Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis.

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Authors

Baimel, Adam
Juda, Miriam
Birch, Susan
Henrich, Joseph

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Psychology, Health and Professional Development

Dates

Year of publication: 2021
Date of RADAR deposit: 2021-02-04


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


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