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The role of socio-communicative rearing environments in the development of social and physical cognition in apes


William D. Hopkins, Department of Psychology, Agnes Scott College, 141 E. College Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30030, USA; e-mail:


The cultural intelligence hypothesis (CIH) claims that humans’ advanced cognition is a direct result of human culture and that children are uniquely specialized to absorb and utilize this cultural experience (Tomasello, 2000). Comparative data demonstrating that 2.5-year-old human children outperform apes on measures of social cognition but not on measures of physical cognition support this claim (Herrmann et al., 2007). However, the previous study failed to control for rearing when comparing these two species. Specifically, the human children were raised in a human culture whereas the apes were raised in standard sanctuary settings. To further explore the CIH, here we compared the performance on multiple measures of social and physical cognition in a group of standard reared apes raised in conditions typical of zoo and biomedical laboratory settings to that of apes reared in an enculturated socio-communicatively rich environment. Overall, the enculturated apes significantly outperformed their standard reared counterparts on the cognitive tasks and this was particularly true for measures of communication. Furthermore, the performance of the enculturated apes was very similar to previously reported data from 2.5-year-old children. We conclude that apes who are reared in a human-like socio-communicatively rich environment develop superior communicative abilities compared to apes reared in standard laboratory settings, which supports some assumptions of the cultural intelligence hypothesis.

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