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Great apes’ capacities to recognize relational similarity

Haun, D. B. M., & Call, J. (2009). Great apes’ capacities to recognize relational similarity. Cognition, 110, 147-159. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2008.10.012.
Recognizing relational similarity relies on the ability to understand that defining object properties might not lie in the objects individually, but in the relations of the properties of various object to each other. This aptitude is highly relevant for many important human skills such as language, reasoning, categorization and understanding analogy and metaphor. In the current study, we investigated the ability to recognize relational similarities by testing five species of great apes, including human children in a spatial task. We found that all species performed better if related elements are connected by logico-causal as opposed to non-causal relations. Further, we find that only children above 4 years of age, bonobos and chimpanzees, unlike younger children, gorillas and orangutans display some mastery of reasoning by non-causal relational similarity. We conclude that recognizing relational similarity is not in its entirety unique to the human species. The lack of a capability for language does not prohibit recognition of simple relational similarities. The data are discussed in the light of the phylogenetic tree of relatedness of the great apes.
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