Cultural activities influence the way we think

A new learning model may explain how culture helped shape human cognition and memory.


Extracurricular exercises increment open doors for social cooperation and new relationship advancement. Most of these activities are group-oriented that share similar social, religious, or even entertainment interests for socialization. It also affects our psychological well-being. Similarly, it influences our learning processes.

A new study by Tel Aviv University suggests that cultural activities influence our ability to collect kinds of data, make connections between them, and infer a desirable mode of behavior from them.

Scientists have developed a new computational approach to study human and animal cognition. This model may explain how culture helped shape human cognition and memory.

Prof. Arnon Lotem of TAU’s Department of Zoology said, “We believe that, over long time scales, some aspects of the brain must have changed to better accommodate the learning parameters required by various cultural activities. The effect of culture on cognitive evolution is captured through small modifications of evolving learning and data acquisition mechanisms. Their coordinated action improves the brain network’s ability to support learning processes involved in such cultural phenomena as language or tool-making.”

Our brain is not an unbending learning machine in which a specific event essentially prompts another specific event. It works according to coevolving mechanisms of learning and data acquisition, with certain memory parameters that jointly construct a complex network. This network then processes all the cognitive processes.

Lotem said, “Any change in these parameters may change the constructed network and thus the function of the brain. Our model reflects how small modifications can adapt our brain to ecological and cultural changes.”

The model assumes a limited window of memory. It then constructs an associative network that represents the frequency of the connections between data items.

The human brain limits the quantity of data it can receive and remember. As scientists noted, the model speculates that the brain does this intentionally. Although, it is the mechanism of the model that filters the data from the surroundings. This may also explain why our working memory is actually more limited than that of our closest relatives, chimpanzees.

Lotem explained, “Working with a large memory window imposes a far greater computational burden on the brain. When we listen to a string of syllables, we scan various combinations to identify familiar words.”

“But this is only a problem if the person who is learning and really needs to care about the exact order of data items, especially in the case of language. On the other hand, a person only has to identify a small combination of typical features in order to discriminate between two types of trees in the forest. The correct request of the components is not essential; the calculation is more straightforward, and a bigger working memory might be better.”

Scientists believe that the concept could be helpful in some cases, as in our human brain. The assumption that cultural activities influence the evolution of cognition is both more parsimonious and more productive than assuming the opposite.


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