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Neuron. 2010 Mar 25;65(6):795-814. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.03.011.

Social cognition and the evolution of language: constructing cognitive phylogenies.

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Department of Cognitive Biology, Althanstrasse 14, University of Vienna, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.


Human language and social cognition are closely linked: advanced social cognition is necessary for children to acquire language, and language allows forms of social understanding (and, more broadly, culture) that would otherwise be impossible. Both "language" and "social cognition" are complex constructs, involving many independent cognitive mechanisms, and the comparative approach provides a powerful route to understanding the evolution of such mechanisms. We provide a broad comparative review of mechanisms underlying social intelligence in vertebrates, with the goal of determining which human mechanisms are broadly shared, which have evolved in parallel in other clades, and which, potentially, are uniquely developed in our species. We emphasize the importance of convergent evolution for testing hypotheses about neural mechanisms and their evolution.

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