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Institut für Evolutionäre Anthropologie (IEA)

Evolution of the human mind

Callithrix jacchus group

Our ultimate goal is to use the empirical knowledge about non-human primates to inform our understanding of how the human mind has evolved. Even if the human mind is unique, it is nevertheless possible to trace the evolutionary origins of (some of) its elements and precursors. Some of these are the result of shared ancestry, such as our big and powerful brains, whereas others, such as our cooperativeness, are more likely the result of convergent evolution in the context of cooperative breeding.

According to this working model, at least part of the answer of what made the human mind special is that early in human evolution, a chimpanzee-like intelligence was combined with the prosocial attitudes inherent to shared infant care. This combination is unique in the animal kingdom, and unleashed cascading processes with far-reaching consequences for cooperation, communication, cognition and culture.

Here are some selected references from this line of work

  • Hrdy, S. B. & Burkart, J. M. (2020) The emergence of emotionally modern humans: Implications for language and learning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
  • Burkart, J. M., Guerreiro Martins, E., Miss, F., & Zürcher, Y. (2018). From sharing food to sharing information: cooperative breeding and the roots of language. Interaction Studies, 19, 136-150.
  • van Schaik, C. P. & Burkart, J. M. (2018). The moral capacity as a biological adaptation: A commentary. Philosophical Psychology. 31 (5), 703-721.
  • Burkart, J. M., Brügger, R. & van Schaik, C. P. (2018). Evolutionary origins of morality. Insights from nonhuman primates. Frontiers in Psychology, 3:17.
  • Ruch, H., Zürcher, Y. & Burkart, J. M. (2018). The function of vocal accommodation in humans and other primates. Biological Reviews, 93, 996-1013.
  • Burkart, J. M., van Schaik, C. P. & Griesser, M. (2017). Looking for unity in diversity: cooperative breeding in humans in a comparative perspective. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 284.1869 (2017): 20171184.
  • Burkart, J. M., Schubiger, M. N. & van Schaik, C. P. (2017). The evolution of general intelligence. Target article. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, , 40, 1-67.
  • Burkart, J. M. & van Schaik, C. P. (2016). The cooperative breeding perspective helps pinning down when uniquely human evolutionary processes are necessary – and when not. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, e34.
  • Burkart, J. M., & van Schaik, C. P. (2016). Revisiting the consequences of cooperative breeding. Journal of Zoology, 299(2), 77-83.
  • van Schaik, C. P., Isler, K. & Burkart, J. M. (2012). Explaining brain size variation: From social to cultural brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 16 (5), 277-284.
  • van Schaik, C. P & Burkart, J. M. (2011). Social learning and evolution: The cultural intelligence hypothesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 366, 1008-1016.
  • Jaeggi, A., Burkart, J. M. & van Schaik, C. P. (2010). On the psychology of cooperation in humans and other primates: the natural history and experimental evidence of prosociality. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 12, 365: 2723-2735.
  • Burkart, J. M. & van Schaik, C. P. (2010) Cognitive consequences of cooperative breeding. Animal Cognition, 31 (1), 1-19.
  • Burkart, J. M., Hrdy, S. B. & van Schaik, C. P. (2009). Cooperative breeding and human cognitive evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology 18 (59), 175-186.