Bressanone 2019
The 37th European Workshop on Cognitive Psychology

Talk Title

Evolution of human mind viewed from the study of chimpanzees.

January 21, 2019

I have compared the cognitive function in humans with that of chimpanzees. The laboratory study is known as Ai project since 1977 (see, and the field study has been carried out in Bossou-Nimba, Guinea-Conakry, since 1986 (see Humans and chimpanzees are largely similar at early developmental stages, however, there remain several crucial differences. In comparison to humans, chimpanzees are poor in the social referencing ability and have been very rarely observed to engage in general imitation and active teaching. Young chimpanzees possess exceptional working memory capacities often superior to those of human adults. In contrast, their ability to learn the meaning of symbols is relatively poor. Human infants are typically raised by more than one adult, not only the mother, but also the father, siblings, grandparents, and the other members of the community. The human infant is characterized by the stable supine posture of the neonate that enables face-to-face communication via facial expressions, vocal exchange, manual gestures, and object manipulation because both hands are free. The stable supine posture makes us human. The development of social cognition in humans may be integrally linked to this mother-infant relationship and the species-specific way of rearing the children. In sum, based on the parallel effort of the fieldwork and the laboratory work of chimpanzees, I present possible evolutionary and ontogenetic explanations for aspects of cognition that are uniquely human.

With Dr Carlo Semenza (University of Padova)