EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVES ON EDUCATIONAL
RESEARCH, POLICY, AND PRACTICE*
November 7-8, 2013
Holiday Inn – National Airport Crystal City
Titles and Descriptions of Conference Presentations
Day 1: November 7, 2013
David C. Geary
University of Missouri
Integrating Evolution and Culture in Children’s Mathematical Development
I will provide an overview of biologically primary, evolved domain-specific cognitive abilities and discussion of how domain-general cognitive abilities (fluid intelligence) may have evolved. I will use data from an on-going study of preschoolers’ quantitative development to illustrate how evolved domain-specific and domain-general abilities interact in the creation of evolutionarily novel, biologically secondary abilities.
University of New South Wales
Evolutionary Educational Psychology as a Base for Instructional Design
Evolutionary educational psychology is able to explain the function of the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and so indicate what we learn, how we learn and inform us of the instructional procedures that should work. Knowledge can be categorised into biologically primary knowledge that can be acquired automatically without explicit tuition and biologically secondary knowledge that needs to be taught explicitly. Human cognition when dealing with secondary knowledge constitutes a natural information processing system that has evolved to mimic the architecture of biological evolution. Cognitive load theory uses this architecture to generate a large range of instructional effects concerned with procedures for reducing extraneous working memory load in order to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge in long-term memory. This talk reviews the evolutionary and cognitive bases of the theory and summarises some of the instructional effects generated.
Gale M. Sinatra
University of Southern California
The Challenges of Teaching and Learning about Evolution: Implications for Policy and Practice
Evolution is a complex topic that is not easy to learn or to teach. Most explanations reduce the difficulty to knowledge deficits or religious objections. In fact, there is a broad array of challenges that must be overcome to learn or teach about evolution. These include overcoming students’ prior conceptions, cognitive biases, and motivated reasoning. Students also have difficulty understanding complex systems and emergent process. This presentation will highlight areas of challenge and discuss the implication of these challenges for policy and practice.
Adaptive Memory: Evolutionary Influences on Remembering
If memory evolved, sculpted by the processes of natural selection, then its operating characteristics likely bear the “footprints” of ancestral selection pressures. Given nature’s criterion—enhancing inclusive fitness—I will argue that our memory systems are biased or “tuned” to retain information that is fitness-relevant. Data consistent with this claim include:
(1) processing information for its survival relevance leads to superior long-term retention—better, in fact, than most known learning techniques, (2) animate (living) stimuli are remembered much better than inanimate (nonliving) stimuli, and (3) stimuli that have been potentially contaminated by disease are remembered especially well. Implications for educational practice, particularly the learning of foreign language vocabulary, will be discussed.
Day 2: November 8, 2013
David F. Bjorklund
Florida Atlantic University
The Adaptive Values of Cognitive Immaturity: Applications of Evolutionary Developmental Psychology to Early Education
I briefly outline some of the principles of evolutionary developmental psychology, emphasizing that some aspects of young children’s cognitive immaturity are actually adaptations for surviving the niche of childhood and not simply deficits or shortcomings that need to be overcome. I argue that educators can take advantage of some of these features of young children’s thinking and learning styles, and that some efforts to accelerate young children’s cognitive development, such as educational videos and direct-instructions preschools, can actually be counterproductive to early education.
David F. Lancy
Utah State University
Taming the Autonomous Learner
This paper will argue that teaching—as we now understand the term—is historically and cross-culturally very rare. It appears to be unnecessary either to transmit culture or socialize children. Children are, on the other hand, primed by evolution to be avid observers, imitators, players and helpers—roles that reveal the profoundly autonomous and self-directed nature of culture acquisition. The paper will touch briefly on a laundry list of topics in the anthropology of childhood, which strongly support this central argument. The last part of the paper will briefly discuss the historical roots of schooling in the apprenticeship.
Children’s Natural Ways of Educating Themselves Still Work, Even for the Three Rs
Hunter-gatherer children acquired the skills, knowledge, and values crucial to success in their culture largely through self-directed play and exploration. My observations at a radically alternative school have convinced me that children today can and do acquire the skills, knowledge, and values crucial to success in our culture through these same natural means when appropriate conditions are present. I will describe these conditions, which are diametrically opposite to those in our standard schools. I will also suggest that the skills and knowledge that children must acquire for success today are not as different as others have suggested from those that hunter-gatherer children had to acquire. I will pay particular attention to the means by which children in a literate and numerate culture naturally learn to read, write, and calculate.
Roberta Golinkoff & Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
University of Delaware and Temple University
Play and playful learning: Preparing 21st century children for a global world
The 21st Century child, the “knowledge worker” of tomorrow, must be educated for a global workforce that values creative thinking and problem solving, social skills like teamwork, and academic strength. Yet our current focus on narrowly defined academic achievement with its related emphasis on memorization rather than flexible thinking is not preparing the next generation for success in an ever-expanding world. This talk presents evidence demonstrating the link between playful learning and children’s academic, social and physical wellbeing.
Daniel B. Berch
University of Virginia
Evolutionary Perspectives on Teaching
The vast majority of educational research on teaching has been concerned with the mechanisms or proximate factors that influence teachers’ knowledge and beliefs, their classroom organizational skills, and their acquisition and execution of effective pedagogical strategies. However, there has been comparatively little research or theorizing to date concerning either the evolutionary history or ontogenetic development of teaching skills. Nevertheless, some promising theoretical advances have recently been made that could potentially guide future empirical research in this area. I will briefly review some of this literature, examine various definitions of teaching, assess whether teaching is species-typical and species-unique, and evaluate the need for teachers to possess a theory of mind. I will also highlight what we know about the evolution of teaching skills, focusing on how its costs must be outweighed by the inclusive fitness benefits resulting from pupils’ learning of adaptive information. Finally, I will discuss the implications of these ideas for research on contemporary teacher recruitment, training, and retention policies and practices.
Day 3: November 9, 2013
University of Chicago
Fairness: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and What It Might Be For
Many argue that fairness is a social preference for equity that functions to promote cooperation. Both adults and children distribute resources fairly in some contexts. However, is this because they prefer to be fair or because they want to appear fair? We know that adults are less fair when they do not risk appearing unfair (Levitt & List, 2007), is this true for children as well? We find that when someone was aware of children’s choices, most children were fair; but when children could be unfair, yet appear fair, only a small minority opted for fairness. We then investigated whether children were concerned with the appearance of inequity or partiality—would children endorse inequity if an impartial procedure was available? These studies demonstrate that fairness is focused on social signaling and is rooted in avoiding partiality not just inequity. In a final set of studies we investigate whether or not fairness functions to promote cooperative interactions through reciprocity. We present evidence that fairness and cooperative favoritism actually conflict with one another, suggesting that fairness is not for promoting reciprocity. I will end by discussing how knowing about these different psychologies can inform strategies for dealing with conflicts in a school setting.
Texas Tech University
A Reexamination of Aggression, Morality, and Children’s Social Functioning Through Evolutionary Lenses: Implications for Intervention Programs
Evolutionary approaches often challenge conventional views because they change the focus of our attention from “what is good” to “what is effective.” This shifting of attention can have weighty implications for one’s conclusions and can offer insights for educational contexts and aggression amelioration programs. In this talk, I will examine our traditional assumptions about aggression, and then present an alternate view through the lenses of life history theory and social dominance. Finally, I will show that we (humans) are much more ambivalent about human aggression than traditional models would have us believe, and that intervention programs would do best to explicitly consider this ambivalence.
David Sloan Wilson
Binghamton University and The Evolution Institute
Difficulties in Perpetuating a Successful Program for At-Risk High School Students Informed by Evolutionary Science
The Regents Academy is a program for at-risk high school students informed by evolutionary science. Specifically, it incorporates eight core design principles that are predicted to improve the efficacy of most groups and two auxiliary design principles important for the context of learning. The program was highly successful during its first year. Not only did the RA students greatly outperform a matched sample in a randomized control design, but they performed on a par with the average high school student on the state-mandated exams. Despite its well-documented success, the program had difficulty perpetuating itself and was terminated after three years. These difficulties went beyond mundane challenges such as budget cuts and contain lessons for how to perpetuate and replicate successful programs that can also be approached from an evolutionary perspective.
*This research conference is supported by a grant from the Education Research
Conferences Program of the American Educational Research Association.