Demonstration and pantomime in the evolution of teaching

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Donald proposes that early Homo evolved mimesis as a new form of cognition. This article investigates the mimesis hypothesis in relation to the evolution of teaching. The fundamental capacities that distinguish hominin teaching from that of other animals are demonstration and pantomime. A conceptual analysis of the instructional and communicative functions of demonstration and pantomime is presented. Archaeological evidence that demonstration was used for transmitting the Oldowan technology is summarized. It is argued that pantomime develops out of demonstration so that the primary objective of pantomime is that the onlooker learns the motoric patterns shown in the pantomime. The communicative use of pantomime is judged to be secondary. This use of pantomime is also contrasted with other forms of gestures. A key feature of the analysis is that the meaning of a pantomime is characterized by the force patterns of the movements. These force patterns form the core of a model of the cognitive mechanism behind pantomime. Finally, the role of pantomime in the evolution of language is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number415
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Mar 22

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Educational Sciences
  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
  • Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)


  • Demonstration
  • Evolution of language
  • Gesture
  • Mental simulation
  • Mimesis
  • Pantomime
  • Teaching


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