Tenth International School on Mind, Brain and Education

2015 September 8-12


Directors of the School: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Directors of the Course: Sidney Strauss and Elena Pasquinelli
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

Abstract: Alex Thornton
Daphne du Maurier Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College for Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter. UK

The function and mechanisms of teaching: an evolutionary perspective
For almost 200 years, Immanuel Kant’s assertion that “man is the only being who needs education” went unchallenged, largely as a result of definitions which a priori excluded all other species (and indeed many human societies) by cleaving to Western notions of formal education or stipulating specific cognitive requirements. I will argue in favour of a less restrictive, evolutionarily grounded approach which treats teaching as a form of cooperative behaviour whereby knowledgeable individuals help others to learn, without a priori assertions as to the mechanisms by which this is achieved. Under this functional view, there is clear experimental evidence for teaching in several non-human species, and suggestive evidence in a host more. These studies allow us to begin to understand how teaching evolved, and the relation between forms of teaching in humans and other animals. In particular the discovery that animals may teach without using Theory of Mind raises the important possibility that role that relatively low-level mechanisms may also play an important role in human teaching. Might, for example, people with autism be able to teach using simple rules of thumb to gauge the needs of their pupils, despite their deficits in mind-reading?