How does cognition evolve? Phylogenetic comparative psychology.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Now more than ever animal studies have the potential to test hypotheses regarding how cognition evolves. Comparative psychologists have developed new techniques to probe the cognitive mechanisms underlying animal behavior, and they have become increasingly skillful at adapting methodologies to test multiple species. Meanwhile, evolutionary biologists have generated quantitative approaches to investigate the phylogenetic distribution and function of phenotypic traits, including cognition. In particular, phylogenetic methods can quantitatively (1) test whether specific cognitive abilities are correlated with life history (e.g., lifespan), morphology (e.g., brain size), or socio-ecological variables (e.g., social system), (2) measure how strongly phylogenetic relatedness predicts the distribution of cognitive skills across species, and (3) estimate the ancestral state of a given cognitive trait using measures of cognitive performance from extant species. Phylogenetic methods can also be used to guide the selection of species comparisons that offer the strongest tests of a priori predictions of cognitive evolutionary hypotheses (i.e., phylogenetic targeting). Here, we explain how an integration of comparative psychology and evolutionary biology will answer a host of questions regarding the phylogenetic distribution and history of cognitive traits, as well as the evolutionary processes that drove their evolution.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • MacLean, EL; Matthews, LJ; Hare, BA; Nunn, CL; Anderson, RC; Aureli, F; Brannon, EM; Call, J; Drea, CM; Emery, NJ; Haun, DBM; Herrmann, E; Jacobs, LF; Platt, ML; Rosati, AG; Sandel, AA; Schroepfer, KK; Seed, AM; Tan, J; van Schaik, CP; Wobber, V

Published Date

  • March 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 15 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 223 - 238

PubMed ID

  • 21927850

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3980718

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1435-9456

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s10071-011-0448-8


  • eng

Conference Location

  • Germany