Bettle, R. & Rosati, A.G. (2020). The evolutionary origins of natural pedagogy: Rhesus monkeys show sustained attention following nonsocial cues versus social communicative signals. Developmental Science.[PDF] [Supplementary] [Videos] [Publisher’s version] Abstract
The natural pedagogy hypothesis proposes that human infants preferentially attend to communicative signals from others, facilitating rapid cultural learning. In this view, sensitivity to such signals are a uniquely human adaptation and as such nonhuman animals should not produce or utilize these communicative signals. We test these evolutionary predictions by examining sensitivity to communicative cues in 206 rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) using an expectancy looking time task modeled on prior work with infants. Monkeys observed a human actor who either made eye contact and vocalized to the monkey (social cue), or waved a fruit in front of her face and produced a tapping sound (nonsocial cue). The actor then either looked at an object (referential look) or looked towards empty space (look away). We found that, unlike human infants in analogous situations, rhesus monkeys looked longer at events following nonsocial cues, regardless of the demonstrator’s subsequent looking behavior. Moreover, younger and older monkeys showed similar patterns of responses across development. These results provide support for the natural pedagogy hypothesis, while also highlighting evolutionary changes in human sensitivity to communicative signals.