For Centuries, humans have put a lot of stock in thinking we’re  special.  From  Aristotle  touting  our  rational  minds  and  deliberative  imaginations  to  Descartes  dismissing  animals as  mere  machines,  we  have  a  long  history  of  thinking  we’re unique. As proof, we’ve pointed to our language, our culture, and  our  ability  to  use  tools,  though  these  theories  seem  less certain as time goes on.

More recently, scientists postulated that only humans can think about others’ minds. Maybe animals are really good at reading behaviors, the theory goes, but they don’t infer how another feels. “Now we have quite a lot of evidence that suggests this theory is not supported either,” says Alexandra Rosati, assistant professor of psychology and anthropology.

“The big questions that motivate me are: What is it about humans that allows us to think the way we do?” Rosati says. “How is it that other animals are in some ways very smart, but don’t have the kinds of lives we have? They’re not going to school or living in buildings. When you study animals and see how intelligent they are, this gap looms even larger.”

Rosati’s lab investigates primates from a variety of approaches: the complexity of their social groups, what kinds of foods they eat, how they make decisions, how they solve problems. They’re trying to find the link between the biological function of cognitive abilities and, ultimately, to understand what made humans capable of such amazing feats of cognition.

Read the full article "Make Up Your Mind" in the LSA Magazine Fall 2018, page 21.