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Skills and motivations underlying children's cumulative cultural learning : case not closed.

E, Reindl and A, Gwillians and L, Dean and RL, Kendal and C, Tennie (2020) 'Skills and motivations underlying children's cumulative cultural learning : case not closed.', Palgrave communications., 6 . p. 106.


The breakthrough study of Dean et al. (Science 335:1114–1118, 2012) claimed that imitation, teaching, and prosociality were crucial for cumulative cultural learning. None of their child participants solved the final stage of their puzzlebox without social support, but it was not directly tested whether the solution was beyond the reach of individual children. We provide this missing asocial control condition, showing that children can reach the final stage of the puzzlebox without social support. We interpret these findings in the light of current understanding of cumulative culture: there are currently conflicting definitions of cumulative culture, which we argue can lead to drastically different interpretations of (these) experimental results. We conclude that the Dean et al. (Science 335:1114–1118, 2012) puzzlebox fulfils a process-focused definition, but does not fulfil the (frequently used) product-focused definition. Accordingly, the precise role of social support for the apparent taxonomic distribution of cumulative culture and its ontogeny warrants further testing.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:28 April 2020
Date deposited:05 May 2020
Date of first online publication:28 May 2020
Date first made open access:03 June 2020

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