Rosati, A. G., Santos, L. R., & Hare, B. (2010). Primate social cognition: Thirty years after Premack and Woodruff. In: Primate Neuroethology (A. Ghazanfar and M. Platt, eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 117-143.[PDF] [Publisher’s Version] Abstract
Since Darwin declared the mind as the province of biology as well as psychology, the human intellect has been a major challenge for evolutionary biologists, with some researchers emphasizing the continuity between humans and other animals, and others emphasizing seemingly unique aspects of our psychological makeup. Research over the past ten years has revealed that at least some primates have some capability to assess the psychological states of others—while simultaneously showing striking differences between the social-cognitive capacities of humans and other primates. Here we address two aspects of primate social cognition—understanding of intentional, goal-directed action, and understanding perceptions, knowledge, and beliefs—focusing on newest comparative research since the last major reviews were written on the topic over a decade ago. We first review evidence suggesting that diverse species of primates understand the actions of others in terms of goals and intentions, and furthermore can reason about some, but probably not all, kinds of psychological states. We then examine the hypothesis that primates show their most complex social skills in competitive contexts, and suggest that inquiry into other aspects of primate social life, such as during cooperative interactions, may prove to be the next important step for experimental inquiries into primate social-cognitive skills. Finally, we examine primate social cognition in a broader evolutionary context that may allow us to better understand both primate and human cognitive skills.