How comparative cognition can shed light on human evolution: Response to Beran et al.’s discussion of “Cognitive capacities for cooking in chimpanzees”

Rosati, A. G., & Warneken, F. (2016). How comparative cognition can shed light on human evolution: Response to Beran et al.’s discussion of “Cognitive capacities for cooking in chimpanzees”. Learning & Behavior, 44, 109-115.

[PDF]  [Publisher’s Version]  Abstract

We recently reported a study (Warneken & Rosati, 2015) examining whether chimpanzees possess several cognitive capacities that are critical to engage in cooking. In a subsequent commentary, Beran, Hopper, de Waal, Sayers, and Brosnan (2015) asserted that our paper has several flaws. Their commentary (1) critiques some aspects of our methodology and argues that our work does not constitute evidence that chimpanzees can actually cook; (2) claims that these results are old news, as previous work had already demonstrated that chimpanzees possess most or all of these capacities; and, finally, (3) argues that comparative psychological studies of chimpanzees cannot adequately address questions about human evolution, anyway. However, their critique of the premise of our study simply reiterates several points we made in the original paper. To quote ourselves: “As chimpanzees neither control fire nor cook food in their natural behavior, these experiments therefore focus not on whether chimpanzees can actually cook food, but rather whether they can apply their cognitive skills to novel problems that emulate cooking” (Warneken & Rosati, 2015, p. 2). Furthermore, the methodological issues they raise are standard points about psychological research with animals—many of which were addressed synthetically across our 9 experiments, or else are orthogonal to our claims. Finally, we argue that comparative studies of extant apes (and other nonhuman species) are a powerful and indispensable method for understanding human cognitive evolution.