Awarded a EU FP7 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Intra-European Fellowship to work on a project entitled 'The Evolution of Cognition and primate social style ' (MACACOGNITUM)
In his book “The Descent of Man”, Darwin suggested that differences between human and animal intelligence is a matter of degree, not of kind (Darwin 1871). Since then, it has been empirically proven that humans share some common cognitive attributes with other primates, but also exhibit complex cognitive skills not demonstrated by other primates. A crucial question in comparative cognitive research is whether these species differences in cognitive abilities correlate with differences in ecological and social factors. The current social intelligence hypothesis suggests that an increase in social complexity drove the evolution of cognitive flexibility in primates. Comparisons between species that live in social systems of differing social complexity offer the strongest test of the social intelligence hypothesis but these comparisons are lacking.
The project ´Macacognitum´ tested the social intelligence hypothesis using a unique approach by comparing the cognitive skills of close-related monkey species of different social tolerance grades. The objectives of the project were 1- to conduct an extensive cross-species comparison using a highly standardized recent comprehensive test battery for comparative psychology, 2- to use a ‘top-down’ approach as used in evolutionary biology and test different monkey species from the same genus which differ only in their social style, 3- to add new data on the cognitive skills of understudied monkey species, 4- to examine the differential influence of social style on cognitive performance in both physical and social domains by using high-quality statistical procedures, 5- to interpret the results and help understand the evolutionary history of cognitive traits in a monkey monophyletic group.