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Apes vs. Toddlers

October 3, 2007

Although equivalent in many intellectual tasks, human toddlers are much better than apes in social thinking.


Comparing ape and toddler thinking. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Apes can match human two-and-a-half year olds in numerical and spatial reasoning. But toddlers win hands-down in another kind of thinking, called social cognition. This according to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. Cognitive scientist Josep Call says social cognition is thinking based on interactions with others.

JOSEP CALL (Max Planck Institute, Germany):
And this includes things like learning from others, or things like communicating with others, or trying to assess what others know or do not know.

For example, the toddlers learned to open a tube by watching an adult do it, while the apes ignored the demonstration. Human’s superior social cognition may have helped create human civilization and technology, allowing us to share knowledge easily and pass it on to future generations. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.