Flexible cultural learning through action coordination


The cultural transmission of technical know-how has proven vital to the success of our species. The broad diversity of learning contexts, social configurations and the various kinds of coordinated interactions they involve speak to our capacity to flexibly adapt to and succeed in transmitting vital knowledge within varying learning contexts. While often recognized by ethnographers, the flexibility of cultural learning has so far received little attention in terms of cognitive mechanisms. We argue that a key feature of the flexibility of cultural learning is that both the model(s) and learner(s) recruit cognitive mechanisms of action coordination to modulate their behavior contingently on the behavior of their partner, generating a process of mutual adaptation supporting the successful transmission of technical skills in diverse and fluctuating learning environments. We propose that the study of cultural learning would benefit from the experimental methods, results, and insights of joint action research and, complementarily, that the field of joint action research could expand its scope by integrating a learning and cultural dimension. Bringing these two fields of research together promises to enrich our understanding of both cultural learning and its contextual flexibility, and (joint) action coordination.

Available as preprint from the OSF