Human Uniqueness from the Perspective of Evolutionary Anthropology and Cognitive Science

Michael Pleyer

Abstract


In this paper I explore the question of what is unique and special about modern humans (homo sapiens) from the perspective of evolutionary anthropology and cognitive science. I frst give a brief overview of the evolution of the human brain. Then I discuss six candidates for what makes human cognition unique: (1) the ability to adopt a shared perspective (2) symbolic, analogical reasoning (3) a Theory of Mind (4) the creation of a symbolic 'niche' with shared cultural artefacts and norms (5) mental time travel (6) language. Most importantly, a comparison of the sociocognitive capacities and motivations of humans and other primates indicates that humans might possess a unique adaptation for cultural interaction, transmission and learning. This is already evident in infants and young children, who show unique abilities and motivations in the domain of sharing intentions, understanding joint commitments, and sharing attention and other psychological states.

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