Nature vs. Nurture in a Hunter-Gatherer Society

In an article entitled, “Children Educate Themselves III: The Wisdom of Hunter-Gatherers,” a discussion about how children learn the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is proposed. How do these communities learn their roles within the society in order to survive? Is it something that is taught or is it instinctively known. The author of this article, Peter Gray, took it upon himself to survey multiple anthropologists who were residing in hunter-gatherer societies. The information he collected is surprising in that the responses were all very similar despite the fact that these communities were located in all different places.

The first conclusion that was drawn by Gray was that it takes a lot of education and learning for a child to become a successful hunter-gatherer. Children must learn about a multitude of different types of animals in order to learn how to track and hunt each individual animal. They must learn how to navigate so as not to get lost when out hunting. They must learn the differences in which plants are edible, which are not, and where they can find such plants. There is a certain amount of knowledge that must be learned in order to become a successful hunter-gatherer.

The second conclusion drawn by Gray’s surveys was that children must be able to learn all of the lessons mention above on their own. When asked how these children are supposed to teach themselves the most common answer given was through observation, play, and exploration. It is this fact right here that brings up the question of nature vs. nurture. Is it in these children’s nature to automatically learn these qualities or do they learn it indirectly through their observations.

The third conclusion drawn by Gray was that children in hunter-gatherer societies are given ample opportunity to play and explore. It is through this play and exploration that they are to learn the lessons of how to become a successful hunter-gatherer. The adults of these societies believe that this play and exploration are a means of learning for the children of the community.

The last conclusion drawn by Gray was the idea that children observe and learn through their parents actions and incorporate these actions into their daily play. It rings back to the homage that children want to be just like their parents and therefore look for ways to mimic their actions.

While it was not directly concluded as to whether or not children in hunter-gatherer societies learn their skill sets through nature or nurture it is my belief that a little of both is what makes them so successful. They are born into this lifestyle but nothing is done to nurture that lifestyle other than observation. I believe that they have the natural instincts to survive in this lifestyle but are also indirectly nurtured and influenced through their observations of their families.

Gray, Peter. “Children Educate Themselves III: The Wisdom of Hunter-Gatherers,” 2 Aug. 2008.


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