Send to

Choose Destination
Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 1996 Jun;3(3-4):279-90.

Cognitive function in mammals: the evolutionary perspective.

Author information

Department of Psychology, University of York at Heslington, UK.


The work of behavioural pharmacologists has concentrated on small animals, such as rodents and pigeons. The validity of extrapolation of their findings to humans depends upon the existence of parallels in both physiology and psychology between these animals and humans. This paper considers the question whether there are in fact substantial cognitive parallels between, first, different non-human groups of vertebrates and, second, non-humans and humans. Behavioural data from 'simple' tasks, such as habituation and conditioning, do not point to species differences among vertebrates. Using examples that concentrate on the performance of rodents and birds, it is argued that, similarly, data from more complex tasks (learning-set formation, transitive inference, and spatial memory serve as examples) reveal few if any cognitive differences amongst non-human vertebrates. This conclusion supports the notion that association formation may be the critical problem-solving process available to non-human animals; associative mechanisms are assumed to have evolved to detect causal links between events, and would therefore be relevant in all ecological niches. In agreement with this view, recent advances in comparative neurology show striking parallels in functional organisation of mammalian and avian telencephalon. Finally, it is argued that although the peculiarly human capacity for language marks a large cognitive contrast between humans and non-humans, there is good evidence-in particular, from work on implicit learning--that the learning mechanisms available to non--humans are present and do play an important role in human cognition.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Loading ...
Support Center