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Cooperative breeding and human cognitive evolution


Burkart, J M; Hrdy, S B; Van Schaik, C P (2009). Cooperative breeding and human cognitive evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology, 18(5):175-186.

Abstract

Despite sharing a recent common ancestor, humans are surprisingly different from other great apes. The most obvious discontinuities are related to our cognitive
abilities, including language, but we also have a markedly different, cooperative breeding system. Among many nonhuman primates and mammals in general,cooperative breeding is accompanied by psychological changes leading to greater prosociality, which directly enhances performance in social cognition.Here we propose that these cognitive consequences of cooperative breeding could have become more pervasive in the human lineage because the psychological changes were added to an ape-level cognitive system capable of understanding simple mental states, albeit mainly in competitive contexts. Once more prosocial motivations were added, these cognitive abilities could also be used for cooperative purposes, including a willingness to share mental states, thereby enabling the emergence of shared intentionality. Shared intentionality has been identified as the original source of many uniquely human cognitive abilities, including cumulative culture and language. Shared intentionality rests on a fundamentally prosocial disposition that is strikingly absent in chimpanzees, but
present in cooperatively breeding primates. Thus, our hypothesis is that while chimpanzees and perhaps all great apes exhibit many of the important cognitive preconditions for uniquely human mental capacities to evolve, they lack the psychological preconditions. In humans, we argue, the two components merged, the cognitive component due to common descent from ape ancestors and the motivational component due to convergent evolution of traits typical of many cooperative breeders.

Abstract

Despite sharing a recent common ancestor, humans are surprisingly different from other great apes. The most obvious discontinuities are related to our cognitive
abilities, including language, but we also have a markedly different, cooperative breeding system. Among many nonhuman primates and mammals in general,cooperative breeding is accompanied by psychological changes leading to greater prosociality, which directly enhances performance in social cognition.Here we propose that these cognitive consequences of cooperative breeding could have become more pervasive in the human lineage because the psychological changes were added to an ape-level cognitive system capable of understanding simple mental states, albeit mainly in competitive contexts. Once more prosocial motivations were added, these cognitive abilities could also be used for cooperative purposes, including a willingness to share mental states, thereby enabling the emergence of shared intentionality. Shared intentionality has been identified as the original source of many uniquely human cognitive abilities, including cumulative culture and language. Shared intentionality rests on a fundamentally prosocial disposition that is strikingly absent in chimpanzees, but
present in cooperatively breeding primates. Thus, our hypothesis is that while chimpanzees and perhaps all great apes exhibit many of the important cognitive preconditions for uniquely human mental capacities to evolve, they lack the psychological preconditions. In humans, we argue, the two components merged, the cognitive component due to common descent from ape ancestors and the motivational component due to convergent evolution of traits typical of many cooperative breeders.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:2009
Deposited On:05 Jan 2010 15:10
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:34
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell
ISSN:1060-1538
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/evan.20222

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