February 1, 2011
What separates mankind from his primate relatives? Is it our mastery of language both written and spoken? Without training and education is mankind so very different from their wilder counterparts? These are questions asked but not as easily answered as one might think.
Theory of Mind
Many scientists would say that the ability to predict other’s actions and emotions based on information observed is what allows mankind to control so much of his surroundings, and exist as prey only to Mother Nature. This is called Theory of Mind, or TOM. This theory was first developed to investigate autism and to further understand primates. It was suggested that those who do not posses TOM were the victims of autism. (Tirapu-Ustárroz et. al. 2007)
Other scientists suggest that what separates mankind from primates is that mankind possesses a “species-specific set of social cognitive skills” (Herman et. al. 2007). Arguably that covers a broader range than TOM but it encompasses it, uniting these scientists under one front.
However, some scientists say that chimpanzees do indeed possess TOM. By showing a chimpanzee a series of video tapes of humans in situations that lacked a solution, and then presenting several different photos, one with a solution to the problem, it was shown that chimpanzees do indeed possess a version of TOM. For example, the chimpanzee was shown a video of a phonograph, unable to play because it was unplugged. The chimpanzee then chose the photo of a plugged in phonograph as a solution (Premack and Woodruff 1978).
Similarly, others continue to suggest that we are not so very different from other primates. In an article titled Humans Have Evolved Specialized Skills of Social Cognition: The Cultural Intelligence Hypothesis results it is suggested that it is not “general intelligence” that...