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Peer learning and cultural evolution

Lew-Levy, Sheina; Bos, Wouter van den; Corriveau, Kathleen H.; Dutra, Natalia Bezerra; Flynn, Emma G.; O'Sullivan, Eoin; Pope-Caldwell, Sarah; Rawlings, Bruce; Smolla, Marco; Xu, Jing; Wood, Lara

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Wouter van den Bos

Kathleen H. Corriveau

Natalia Bezerra Dutra

Emma G. Flynn

Eoin O'Sullivan

Sarah Pope-Caldwell

Marco Smolla

Jing Xu

Lara Wood


In this article, we integrate cultural evolutionary theory with empirical research from developmental psychology, cultural anthropology, and primatology to explore the role of peer learning in the development of complex instrumental skills and behavioral norms. We show that instrumental imitation, contingent teaching, generative collaboration, and selective copying contribute to domain-specific transmission of knowledge between peers. Stages of development and characteristics inherent to the learner and model influence how and when children learn from each other. Peer learning is persistent across societies despite cultural beliefs that favor adult–child transmission in some settings. Comparative research hints at the possibility that children's greater motivation to interact with and learn from each other may set humans apart from other primates. We conclude by outlining avenues for future research, including how individual characteristics and developmental changes in social networks, motivation, and cognition may contribute to cultural evolution.


Lew-Levy, S., Bos, W. V. D., Corriveau, K. H., Dutra, N. B., Dutra, N., Flynn, E. G., …Wood, L. (2023). Peer learning and cultural evolution. Child Development Perspectives, 17, 97-105.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 2, 2023
Online Publication Date Mar 15, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Oct 17, 2022
Publicly Available Date May 16, 2023
Journal Child Development Perspectives
Print ISSN 1750-8592
Electronic ISSN 1750-8606
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Pages 97-105
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Published Journal Article (765 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
© 2023 The Authors. Child Development Perspectives published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Research in Child Development.<br /> <br /> This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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