Evidence for the adaptive learning function of work and work-themed play among Aka forager and Ngandu farmer Children from the Congo Basin

20 Nov 2017

Purpose: Work-themed play may allow children to learn complex skills, and ethno-typical and gender-typical behaviors. Thus, play may make important contributions to the evolution of childhood through the development of embodied capital. Few studies have explored how work and play trade-off throughout childhood among foragers, and how sex, ethnicity, and task complexity influence this trade-off. Using data from Aka foragers and Ngandu farmer children from the Central African Republic, we examine whether children choose ethno- and gender-typical play and work activities, and whether play prepares children for complex work. Methods: Focal follows of 50 Aka and 48 Ngandu children were conducted with the aim of recording children’s participation in 12 categories of work and work-themed play. We then examined how age, sex, ethnicity, and task complexity influences children’s activity choice. Results: We found that as children age, they worked more, and played less across cultures. Sex was a significant predictor for participation in hunting activities, household and other types of activities, while ethnicity was a significant predictor for participation in gathering activities, village activities, and net hunting. Lastly, children worked significantly more than they played at simple activities. Conclusion: Our findings show that ethnic and gender biases are apparent in the play and work behavior of Aka and Ngandu children. We also find the first evidence for the persistence of ethno-typical play within a multi-ethnic community of farmers and foragers. Finally, our results show that play helps both forager and farmer children learn complex skills.