May 11, 2021
Title: The evolutionary origins of representational and motivational hallmarks of human social cognition
Abstract: Human social cognition is supported both by our ability to represent others’ mental states and our propensity to share these mental states with others in collaborative activities. As adult humans, we recognize that the content of other minds often differs from that of our own, but we are also deeply motivated to share common beliefs and desires with others. This dissertation explores the evolutionary origins of these representational and motivational hallmarks of human social cognition via two complementary lines of research: the first explores whether non-human primates represent others’ knowledge and ignorance states in the same way as humans, and second explores whether domestic dogs show a similar propensity as humans to form shared intentions with social partners in joint activities. Collectively, this work supports the idea that humans may have evolved unique ways of representing the contents of other minds, but that our propensity to jointly share desires with others may be more widely evident across even distantly-related species.
Committee: Evan MacLean (chair, SoA), Stacey Tecot (SoA), Mary Peterson (Department of Psychology, UofA), and Laurie Santos (Department of Psychology, Yale University)