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How does cognition evolve? Phylogenetic comparative psychology

MacLean, E. L., Matthews, L. J., Hare, B. A., Nunn, C. L., Anderson, R. C., Aureli, F., Brannon, E. M., Call, J., Drea, C. M., Emery, N. J., Haun, D. B. M., Herrmann, E., Jacobs, L. F., Platt, M. L., Rosati, A. G., Sandel, A. A., Schroepfer, K. K., Seed, A. M., Tan, J., Van Schaik, C. P., & Wobber, V. (2012). How does cognition evolve? Phylogenetic comparative psychology. Animal Cognition, 15, 223-238. doi:10.1007/s10071-011-0448-8.
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.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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