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Cognitive consequences of our grandmothering life history: cultural learning begins in infancy


Kristen Hawkes


Postmenopausal longevity distinguishes humans from our closest living evolutionary cousins, the great apes, and may have evolved in our lineage when the economic productivity of grandmothers allowed mothers to wean earlier and overlap dependents. Since increased longevity retards development and expands brain size across the mammals, this hypothesis links our slower developing, bigger brains to ancestral grandmothering. If foraging interdependence favoured postmenopausal longevity because grandmothers' subsidies reduced weaning ages, then ancestral infants lost full maternal engagement while their slower developing brains were notably immature. With survival dependent on social relationships, sensitivity to reputations is wired very early in neural ontogeny, beginning our lifelong preoccupation with shared intentionality.

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Last Updated: 3/24/21