Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Infants aged between 6 and 18 months respond to plants in specific ways. They are initially more reluctant to touch plants than manmade objects such as lamps or spoons. However, infants overcome this hesitancy by learning from what other people do. For example, infants quickly learn which plants are edible by watching which plants adults put in their mouths. The researchers in the MPRG Naturalistic Social Cognition believe that children’s un­ derstanding of plants is a function of hu­ man evolution: Across evolutionary time, learning which plants could be eaten and which were toxic would have been critical to human survival. Within this new field of study, the research group investigates which selective social learning strategies humans use over the course of their devel­ opment to acquire information about plants. Employing a combination of laboratory studies with infants and observations of par­ ent–child interactions, the research group, founded in 2015, examines how these social learning strategies function at the earliest stages of the lifespan and whether there are crosscultural differences in people’s deal­ ing with plants. To this end, they integrate theories and methods of cognitive science, developmental psychology, evolutionary bi­ ology, and biological anthropology. Their research provides a window into the complex interplay of evolutionary and de­ velopmental factors that allow human be­ ings to accumulate cultural knowledge. It is thanks to this kind of intergenerational knowledge transfer that humans are able to survive and thrive in environments across the world. 9 MPRG Naturalistic Social Cognition Research Group Leader: Dr. Annie E. Wertz

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