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The evolution of primate general and cultural intelligence

By Simon M. Reader, Yfke Hager and Kevin N. Laland

Abstract

There are consistent individual differences in human intelligence, attributable to a single ‘general intelligence’ factor, g. The evolutionary basis of g and its links to social learning and culture remain controversial. Conflicting hypotheses regard primate cognition as divided into specialized, independently evolving modules versus a single general process. To assess how processes underlying culture relate to one another and other cognitive capacities, we compiled ecologically relevant cognitive measures from multiple domains, namely reported incidences of behavioural innovation, social learning, tool use, extractive foraging and tactical deception, in 62 primate species. All exhibited strong positive associations in principal component and factor analyses, after statistically controlling for multiple potential confounds. This highly correlated composite of cognitive traits suggests social, technical and ecological abilities have coevolved in primates, indicative of an across-species general intelligence that includes elements of cultural intelligence. Our composite species-level measure of general intelligence, ‘primate gS’, covaried with both brain volume and captive learning performance measures. Our findings question the independence of cognitive traits and do not support ‘massive modularity’ in primate cognition, nor an exclusively social model of primate intelligence. High general intelligence has independently evolved at least four times, with convergent evolution in capuchins, baboons, macaques and great apes

Topics: Articles
Publisher: The Royal Society
OAI identifier: oai:pubmedcentral.nih.gov:3049098
Provided by: PubMed Central
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