Human beings are biologically adapted for culture in ways that other primates are not, as evidenced most clearly by the fact that only human cultural traditions accumulate modifications over historical time (the ratchet effect). The key adaptation is one that enables individuals to understand other individuals as intentional agents like the self. This species-unique form of social cognition emerges in human ontogeny at approximately 1 year of age, as infants begin to engage with other persons in various kinds of joint attentional activities involving gaze following, social referencing, and gestural communication. Young children's joint attentional skills then engender some uniquely powerful forms of cultural learning, enabling the acquisition of language, discourse skills, tool-use practices, and other conventional activities. These novel forms of cultural learning allow human beings to, in effect, pool their cognitive resources both contemporaneously and over historical time in ways that are unique in the animal kingdom.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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