Campfire chat a chance for social bonding

From ABC News in Science, 23 September 2014:

The evolution of fire may have had major social impacts, as well as transforming our diet, according to new research.

Research among the Bushmen of the Kalahari has found sitting around a campfire at night enables conversations, storytelling, and social bonding that rarely happens during daylight.

Study author Dr Polly Wiessner, professor of anthropology at the University of Utah , analysed the content of 174 recorded or documented day and nighttime conversations among the Bushmen, as well as 68 other translated texts.

“I found this really fascinating difference between conversations by firelight and conversations in the day,” says Wiessner, whose research is published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While daytime talk tended to focus on economic matters and gossip, at night around the campfire, the conversation shifted away from the day-to-day tensions and towards singing, dancing, religious ceremonies and storytelling, and chat about common acquaintances.

“The day is harsh, you see the realities, you see the facial expressions, there’s work to be done, and there’s social regulation, and at night people kind of mellow out,” Wiessner says.

While evolutionary study of the impact of fire has long focused on the physiological changes associated with cooking of food, Wiessner was more interested in its social impact.

“The day is productive time for hunting and gathering and the firelight changed our circadian rhythm, so we stayed awake much longer and it gave a whole new time and space, and it was a time when no work could be done,” she says. Read more.

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