Title: Evolutionary and Developmental Origins of Uniquely Human Social Cognition
Abstract: Humans exhibit a remarkable pattern of sociality characterized by cooperation and competition on exceptional scales, rich cultures comprised of both universally common elements and vast behavioral diversity, and communicative systems not seen in any other species. My research seeks to elucidate the nature and origins of the social cognitive abilities that facilitate this unparalleled sociality—such as theory of mind, social knowledge, and thinking about the future. To address this problem, I will present current and future directions (1) comparing the cognitive mechanisms of humans and other apes to identify unique provinces of the human mind (as well as those that are shared and likely evolutionarily ancient); (2) clarifying the evolutionary processes that shaped the minds of our evolutionary ancestors; and (3) investigating the emergence of potentially unique abilities during human ontogeny. In concert, these lines of research stand to shape our understanding of what it means to be human and, from both evolutionary and developmental perspectives, how we came to be.