Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


Comparing Great Apes' and Children's Reasoning About Relational Similarity

Alenka Hribar (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig)

Analogical reasoning, reasoning about relational similarity, is often considered to be one of the hallmarks of human cognition. However, although analogical reasoning has been studied extensively in humans, we know very little about this cognitive ability in our phylogenetically closest living relatives, the other great apes. Most of the studies to date that have assessed analogical reasoning in nonhuman animals have used a single paradigm (relational MTS) and have focused on the relation of identity/non-identity. In addition, only one study has directly compared the analogical reasoning ability of great apes and children.

I will present two sets of studies that compared apes’ and children’s reasoning about relational similarity. In the first set of studies apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans) and 4- and 5-year-old children needed to reason about spatial relational similarity. We employed a spatial mapping task where an individual was required to find a reward in an array of three cups, after observing a reward being hidden in a different array of three cups. In the second set of studies apes (chimpanzees and orangutans) and 5-year-old children needed to reason about size relations in two relational size mapping tasks. Both tasks consisted of searching for a reward hidden in one of two cubes of the same color but of different sizes.

The results of the first set of studies showed intriguing parallels in apes’ and children’s reasoning about spatial relational similarity. Both apes and children were affected by the constellation of the arrays. Moreover, they did not appear to encode and map the relative position of the baited cup across the two arrays; instead, they preferred mapping together the cups in relation to the nearby table’s spatial features. However, the results of the second set of studies showed that apes had great difficulties in mapping size relations, whereas children were quite proficient in finding the rewards. However, children’s results also showed that the greater the requirements on executive functions, the lower their mapping performance became.