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Innovations in human and non-human animal communities

Grant number: 18/18900-1
Support type:Research Projects - SPEC Program
Duration: March 01, 2022 - February 28, 2026
Field of knowledge:Interdisciplinary Subjects
Principal researcher:Shigeru Miyagawa
Grantee:Shigeru Miyagawa
Home Institution: Instituto de Biociências (IB). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Pesquisadores principais:
Carlos Arturo Navas Iannini
Assoc. researchers: Analia Leonora Arevalo ; Bruce Arlan Bradley ; Catherine Robb Bevier ; Cilene Aparecida Nunes Rodrigues ; Eduardo Benedicto Ottoni ; Fabio Parenti ; Maria Mercedes Martinez Okumura ; Tiago Falótico

Abstract

The proposed project, Innovations in human and non-human animal communities, aims to reconstruct the evolutionary history of three allegedly human-specific cognitive abilities, namely: linguistic competence, symbolic activities, and sophisticated tools. More specifically, this project seeks to understand the evolution of the cognitive underpinnings underlying each of these innovations, by looking for antecedents in nature that could account for their development in a relatively short evolutionary time. The core question we wish to pose is: are there evolutionary precursors that, functioning together in some fashion, could have led to the development of cognitive capacities that gave rise to the emergence of an intricate language faculty, symbolic reasoning, and elaborate tool manufacturing? By addressing this question, we investigate whether the evolution of such cognitive proclivities and the differences they had put "between man and the higher animals" are in fact "one of degree and not of kind," as Darwin initially suggested (1871). The answer to this question necessarily involves investigation across a number of disciplines working closely together. While many attempts have been made to tackle such matter from a cross-disciplinary perspective, the approach we undertake in this proposal is unparalleled in the unusually large interdisciplinary team we have brought together, with specialists from fields encompassing linguistics, primatology, archaeology, physiology, evolutionary biology, and paleoanthropology. Each discipline will be committed to a common goal of finding the solutions needed to bring understanding to the difficult issues related to the evolution of human cognitive capacity. To solve one of Darwin's most intricate evolutionary puzzles, we will look closely at each of these cognitive traits as innovations in early modern humans. For each innovation, the specific questions we wish to pursue are: (i) how did it arise in modern humans and (ii) what antecedents, if any, are there in non-human primate and other non-human animal species? We will look for ways in which to close the immense cognitive gap by examining these innovations over a large arc of the evolution, seeking commonalities across a broad range of species. (AU)

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