Save

A Burning Desire: Steps Toward an Evolutionary Psychology of Fire Learning

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
Author:
Daniel Fessler
Search for other papers by Daniel Fessler in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
Download Citation Get Permissions

Access options

Get access to the full article by using one of the access options below.

Institutional Login

Log in with Open Athens, Shibboleth, or your institutional credentials

Login via Institution

Purchase

Buy instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):

$40.00

Abstract

Although fire is inherently dangerous, leading many animals to avoid it, for most of human history, mastery of fire has been critical to survival. Humans can therefore be expected to possess evolved psychological mechanisms dedicated to controlling fire. Because techniques for starting, maintaining, and using fire differ across ecosystems, the postulated adaptations can be expected to take the form of domain-specific learning mechanisms rather than fixed behavioral templates. After outlining features that such mechanisms are predicted to possess, I review the literature on fire play in western children, finding that attraction to and interest in fire is widespread, experimentation with fire often begins in early childhood, and fire play typically peaks in late childhood or early adolescence. The latter aspect stands in contrast to results from a survey of ethnographers which reveals that, in societies in which fire is routinely used as a tool, children typically master control of fire by middle childhood, at which point interest in fire is already declining. This suggests that fire learning is retarded in western children, arguably due to patterns of fire use in modern societies that are atypical when viewed from a broader cross-cultural perspective. Together with the fact that western entertainment media provide a distorted portrait of the properties of fire, this pattern, while limiting the value of naturalistic observations of fire learning in the West, nevertheless has the benefit of providing a strong testing ground for future experiments exploring the universality of the psychology underlying the control of fire.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1645 388 24
Full Text Views 276 18 0
PDF Views & Downloads 263 29 0