Rosati, A. G., & Hare, B. (2010). Social cognition: from behavior-reading to mind-reading. In: The Encyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience, G. Koob, R. F. Thompson, & M. L. Moal (Ed.). Elsevier, pp. 263-268.
The social world has long been thought to be a major force shaping primate cognition: the social lives of primates are thought to be sufficiently complex to have acted as a driving force in primate cognitive evolution. This basic thesis – that the sophisticated cognitive abilities of primates have evolved for a social function – has spurred experimental and theoretical investigations for over 40 years. In this article, we highlight a selection of complex behaviors that primates exhibit when interacting with others, with special attention to the cognitive mechanisms supporting those behaviors. Fundamental to the study of comparative cognition is the idea that many species may exhibit behaviors that appear similar, even though the psychology underlying those behaviors may differ across taxa. This distinction highlights the importance of thinking about primate social interactions not only in the context of behavioral evolution – the special things that primates (and humans) do – but also in terms of cognitive evolution – the special ways that primates think. We use this framework to analyze primate social behavior, and the differing psychologies underlying this behavior, in three areas: gaze-following, food competition, and mutualistic cooperation. The ultimate challenge of such analyses will be to understand why such different cognitive mechanisms have evolved across species.