The Phylogenetic View

Cognitive development can also be approached from a phylogenetic perspective, tracing the relations between the intellectual functions of human children and adults and those of other animals, especially the great apes, whose genetic endowment is similar to our own. There is a vigorous debate over whether chimpanzees and gorillas have anything like the human capacity for language, but it is clear that these and other animals do have the ability to acquire symbolic representations of objects, events, and concepts—similar to semantics, if not syntax as well. Pigeons can be taught to categorize a wide variety of objects, including trees, people (and their emotional expressions), fish, flowers, and automobiles. Studies of mirror recognition indicate that chimpanzees possess a rudimentary concept of self, and the notion of a ''theory of mind'' initially arose from observations that chimpanzees had the ability to attribute mental states to others of their kind. Setting aside the question of whether other species have a capacity for language, it is clear that the behavior of nonhuman animals, especially those who are closest to us in the evolutionary scheme of things, is not just a matter of innate and conditioned responses; some of them, at least, have cognitive capacities not unlike our own.

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