Learning is the cornerstone of the human adaptation process and, thus, of evolution by natural selection. Only due to their adaptive capacity could our ancestors survive and thrive throughout history. Such a notion has inspired many researchers to investigate the knowledge acquirement process to better understand human development in the past and to facilitate future learning. The studies, in general, analyze the impact of a person’s age, abilities, social and natural environment, physical health, and dietary habits on knowledge acquisition. Moreover, the scientists seek to find evolutionary developed a priori structures that define and shape people’s learning. In the latter case, two concepts that explain knowledge attainment are of great interest, namely biological preparedness and observational learning. In the current paper, I want to discuss why both theories mentioned above may adequately explain people’s learning process.
The evidence suggests that certain cognitive, physical, and emotional reactions are embedded in people’s neurological systems. For instance, Kawai and Koda (2016) found that non-human primates raised in captivity were quicker to detect the pictures of snakes despite not encountering them before. In this regard, the concept of biological preparedness generally suggests that human beings are more predisposed to learn certain truths easier than others. It means that the knowledge is passed from generation to generation biologically and concerns the questions directly related to life and death. Therefore, it can be argued that people are naturally prepared to learn information concerning species survival.
The observational learning theory also suggests that people possess certain a priori structures that facilitate their knowledge acquisition. It is argued that human beings can acquire and optimize the necessary and relevant experience by observing other human beings or animals (Carcea & Froemke, 2019). That notion is widely proven by the existence of mirror neurons which activate equally in both scenarios when the person is acting and when he watches the action performed by others. For instance, they may activate when one watches baseball on TV, which will later facilitate a person’s actual performance during baseball games/training.
In summary, the current essay argued that people possess biological preparedness for learning and have a priory structure for gaining knowledge through observation of others. It is based on scientific evidence that people learn faster about certain objects due to prior preparedness resulting from evolution. Also, it is found that mirror neurons are the main reason why people are able to learn through observation.
Carcea, I., & Froemke, R. C. (2019). Biological mechanisms for observational learning. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 54, 178-185.
Kawai, N., & Koda, H. (2016). Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata) quickly detect snakes but not spiders: Evolutionary origins of fear-relevant animals. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 130(3), 299–303.