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Journal Articles Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science Year : 2014

The Human Nature of Culture and Education

Colwyn Trevarthen
  • Function : Author
Maya Gratier
Nigel Osborne
  • Function : Author


Human cultures educate children with different strategies. Ancient hunter-gatherers 200,000 years ago, with bodies and brains like our own, in bands of a hundred well-known individuals or less, depended on spontaneous cooperative practice of knowledge and skills in a natural world. Before creating language, they appreciated beautiful objects and music. Anthropologists observe that similar living cultures accept that children learn in playful 'intent participation'. Large modern industrial states with millions of citizens competing in a global economy aim to instruct young people in scientific concepts and the rules of literacy and numeracy deemed important for employment with elaborate machines. Our psychobiological theories commonly assume that an infant starts with a body needing care and emotional regulation and a mind that assimilates concepts of objects by sensorimotor action and requires school instruction in rational principles after several years of cognitive development. Evidence from archeology and evolutionary anthropology indicates that Homo sapiens are born with an imaginative and convivial brain ready for the pleasure of shared invention and with a natural sense of beauty in handmade objects and music. In short, there are innate predispositions for culture for practicing meaningful habits and artful performances that are playfully inventive and seductive for companionship in traditions, and soon capable of grasping the clever purpose of shared tasks and tools. This knowledge of inventive human nature with esthetic and moral sensibilities has important implications for educational policy in our schools.


Dates and versions

hal-01480091 , version 1 (01-03-2017)



Colwyn Trevarthen, Maya Gratier, Nigel Osborne. The Human Nature of Culture and Education. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 2014, 5 (2), pp.173-192. ⟨10.1002/wcs.1276⟩. ⟨hal-01480091⟩
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