The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Cooperative breeding, child health, and growth among the Aka foragers


Department of Anthropology, Washington State University

Friday 5:15-5:30, Galleria North Add to calendar

The Cooperative Breeding Hypothesis argues that human mothers’ short inter-birth intervals, high fertility, simultaneous multiple dependent offspring, and competing demands on their effort expenditure made non-maternal caregivers (allomothers) necessary in our evolutionary past and in contemporary small-scale societies today. Among foragers, children are cared for and provisioned by multiple caregivers, occupying both kin and non-kin relational categories. However, there is variation in who assists, how many individuals cooperate, and the frequency of care offered to particular children. This paper explores the roles of mothers and allomothers in the lives of Aka tropical forest forager infants and young children in the Central African Republic. Specifically, I test a component of the Cooperative Breeding Hypothesis, which states that human childrearing networks should be flexible—multiple caregivers (beyond fathers and grandmothers) can and do fulfill essential roles in childrearing. Caregiving patterns, health, and anthropometric data were collected on 40 Aka children (birth-3years) through detail quantitative behavioral observations (approximately 500 hours), qualitative ethnographic data, and basic health exams. Resultant data demonstrate, in support of the Cooperative Breeding Hypothesis, that the size of a child’s caregiving network, rather than the presence of one or two particular caregivers, has significant positive effects on child growth and health as they move through infancy into childhood. This multifaceted approach to understanding childrearing enables the role of caregivers in the experiences and development of children to be explored while shedding light on what may have been necessary to rear children in our evolutionary past.

This study was funded by NSF CAREER Award #0955213 and The Leakey Foundation.

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