We propose that human communication is specifically adapted to allow the transmission of generic knowledge between individuals. Such a communication system, which we call ‘natural pedagogy’, enables fast and efficient social learning of cognitively opaque cultural knowledge that would be hard to acquire relying on purely observational learning mechanisms alone. We argue that human infants are prepared to be at the receptive side of natural pedagogy (i) by being sensitive to ostensive signals that indicate that they are being addressed by communication, (ii) by developing referential expectations in ostensive contexts and (iii) by being biased to interpret ostensive-referential communication as conveying information that is kind-relevant and generalizable.
Human children have to learn a large amount of culturally relevant general knowledge to become mature members of their cultural community. This is supported by powerful learning mechanisms that capitalize on innate biases, on statistical regularities extracted from the environment and perhaps even on capacities to construct new representational systems. The evidence we reviewed here indicates that infants are also prepared to learn generic kind relevant information directly and from a specific source that is not available to other species: from benevolent communicators who manifest generic knowledge ‘for’ them that would be difficult (if not impossible) to acquire without such support.