Cognitive cladistics and cultural override in Hominid spatial cognition

Daniel Haun, C. Rapold, J. Call, G. Janzen, S. Levinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Current approaches to human cognition often take a strong nativist stance based on Western adult performance, backed up where possible by neonate and infant research and almost never by comparative research across the Hominidae. Recent research suggests considerable cross-cultural differences in cognitive strategies, including relational thinking, a domain where infant research is impossible because of lack of cognitive maturation. Here, we apply the same paradigm across children and adults of different cultures and across all nonhuman great ape genera. We find that both child and adult spatial cognition systematically varies with language and culture but that, nevertheless, there is a clear inherited bias for one spatial strategy in the great apes. It is reasonable to conclude, we argue, that language and culture mask the native tendencies in our species. This cladistic approach suggests that the correct perspective on human cognition is neither nativist uniformitarian nor “blank slate” but recognizes the powerful impact that language and culture can have on our shared primate cognitive biases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17568-17573
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number46
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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