Target Article with Commentaries: Developmental niche construction


  • For commentaries on this article see Thomas (2012), Li (2012), Gauvain (2012) and Downing-Wilson et al. (2012).

Address for correspondence: Emma Flynn, Department of Psychology, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK; e-mail: or Jeremy Kendal, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK; e-mail:


Niche construction is the modification of components of the environment through an organism's activities. Humans modify their environments mainly through ontogenetic and cultural processes, and it is this reliance on learning, plasticity and culture that lends human niche construction a special potency. In this paper we aim to facilitate discussion between researchers interested in niche construction and those interested in human cognitive development by highlighting some of the related processes. We discuss the transmission of culturally relevant information, how the human mind is a symbol-generating and artefact-devising system, and how these processes are bi-directional, with infants and children both being directed, and directing, their own development. We reflect on these in the light of four approaches: natural pedagogy, activity theory, distributed cognition and situated learning. Throughout, we highlight pertinent examples in non-humans that parallel or further explicate the processes discussed. Finally we offer three future directions; two involving the use of new techniques in the realms of neuroscience and modelling, and the third suggesting exploration of changes in the effects of niche construction across the lifespan.