What Makes Us Human?

Posted on October 26, 2013

One of the most enduring pursuits in cognitive science is identifying the factors that separate us from lower animals — and while it might at first seem like a trivial matter (“well, we’re just a lot smarter!”), it is actually very difficult to scientifically quantify those factors.
At a keynote speech at the British Psychological Society’s CogDev 2013 conference, the researcher Michael Tomasello outlined his belief that the answer, or at least a significant portion of it, can be found in our ability to collaborate. In experiments with apes and human children, experimenters have seen some very interesting differences that point to underlying differences in how we work together to achieve goals.

Apes, including chimpanzees and bonobos, collaborate to achieve goals (usually the acquisition of food). Children do the same. However, they do so in different ways — for example, children take turns in a collaborative context, while apes do not. Children prefer to forage collaboratively, while apes prefer to go it alone when they can. Kids understand their collaborator’s role, and can play that role quickly and without much difficulty. Apes have to re-learn the new role as if they had never even seen it. The list goes on.

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Source material from Brain Blogger