Saturday 19 September 2015

Kids walking about

As far as I can recall, in my childhood kids walked about a lot, and fairly long distances from about 5 or 6 onwards. When we got a bit older we rode bicycles, and that was a big deal. Most of all, we wanted to drive cars, but weren’t allowed to, so we built crude versions of them. Real cars we drove on beaches as soon as we could reach the pedals, and then legally on the highway aged 16.

Can anything be learned by studying the walking about habits of primitive tribes, the sort of people who do not have iPhones?

Helen Davis has been doing this, with preliminary results showing that kids in such communities walk about a great deal more than in our vehicle prone wealthier world. Even in such Elysian tribes women are more worried about the great wide open, and less able to deal with it, though the differences seem rather small to me.

Helen has also done an experiment with chickens, but I don’t think she will be reporting on that at the conference.

Helen Elizabeth Davis portrait



Helen Elizabeth Davis, Karen Kramer, Elizabeth Cashdan

University of Utah,

Across a wide range of societies, males range farther than females, are more confident in their abilities to navigate and do better at many spatial activities. While these gender differences are well-documented in the west, much less is known about spatial exploration and cognition among people, especially children, in traditional societies. To address this empirical gap, the proposed research focuses on three main questions. 1) What is the age and gender patterning of spatial abilities among Maya and Tsimane adults and adolescents? 2) How do differences in harm avoidance perceptions shape boys’ and girls’ spatial behavior and cognitive reasoning? 3) How do these patterns vary across children whose families are experiencing novel socioeconomic changes in subsistence and education?

Using data collected in a remote rural community in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico (N=130) and among the Tsimane forager-horticulturalists of central Bolivia (N= ~120) this project assesses the developmental processes that underlie spatial learning in a non-western context among adults and children (during the juvenile period (8-18)).

Path analysis and multi-level modelling help to evaluate data collected through interviews, tests of cognitive performance and spatial ability between boys and girls. Preliminary results among the Maya suggest that among adults, females report significantly higher levels of spatial anxiety (mean = 2.62, sd = .474) than males (mean = 2.45, sd = .486; t= −2.158, df=152, p = .033). Males were also more proficient at spatial ability tasks (t = −3.601, df=139, p <.001). However, early comparative results among the Tsimane suggest that environmental and social variation may play a significant role in the degree of difference found between sexes in these two populations.

This project presents a unique opportunity to learn whether age and gender differences in spatial cognition and anxiety, as documented in the west, are a generalizable feature of human ontogeny or are conditioned by specific aspects of growing up in a protected environment (Blackwell et al. 2011; Barkley and Gabriel 2007).

Analyses of Maya and Tsimane activity data suggest that, compared to people living in a market-based society, boys and girls are more independent and explore a broader physical environment at younger ages. However, recently, activities and behaviors have shifted as groups transition into the market economy, which offers a unique look at the cultural and behavioral impacts that shift will have on traditional child development within and across age groups.

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