Haun, D. B. M.
(2007). Cognitive cladistics and the relativity of spatial cognition. PhD Thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen.
This thesis elaborates on a methodological approach to reliably infer cognitive preferences in an extinct evolutionary ancestor of modern humans. In attempts to understand cognitive evolution, humans have been compared to capuchin monkeys, tamarins, and chimpanzees to name but a few. But comparisons between humans and one other, maybe even distantly related primate, as interesting as they might be, will not tell us anything about an evolutionary ancestor to humans. To put it bluntly: None of the living primates, not even chimpanzees, are a human ancestor. With that in mind, we can still use a comparative approach to gain information about our evolutionary ancestors, as long as we are careful about whom we compare with whom. If a certain trait exists in all genera of a phylogenetic clade, it was most likely present in their common ancestor. The great apes are such a clade (Pongo, Gorilla, Pan and Homo). It follows that, if members of all great ape genera shared a particular cognitive preference or ability, it is most likely part of the evolutionary inheritance of the clade at least ever since their last common ancestor, and therefore also an evolutionarily old, inherited cognitive default in humans. This thesis contains studies comparing all 4 extant Hominid genera, including humans of 4 different age-groups and 2 different cultures. Results show that all great apes do indeed share some cognitive preferences, which they most likely inherited from an evolutionary ancestor. Additionally, human cognitive preferences can change away from such an inherited predisposition given ontogenetic factors, and are at least in part variably adaptable to cultural circumstance.