Cognitive Anthropology: Its Evolution and Contemporary Relevance

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Practical applications of physical anthropological data include, for example, using estimates of the probabilities that children will inherit certain genes to counsel families about some medical conditions. The study of human evolution is multidisciplinary, requiring not only physical anthropologists but also earth scientists, archaeologists, molecular biologists, primatologists, and cultural anthropologists.

The essential problems are not only to describe fossil forms but also to evaluate the significance of their traits. Concepts such as orthogenesis have been replaced by adaptive radiation radiant evolution and parallel evolution. Fossil hominins of considerable antiquity have been found in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe, and few areas lack interesting human skeletal remains. Two problems requiring additional research are 1 the place, time, and nature of the emergence of hominins from preceding hominoids and 2 the precise relationship of fully anatomically modern Homo sapiens to other species of Homo of the Pleistocene Epoch i.

Nonhuman primates provide a broad comparative framework within which physical anthropologists can study aspects of the human career and condition. Comparative morphological studies, particularly those that are complemented by biomechanical analyses, provide major clues to the functional significance and evolution of the skeletal and muscular complexes that underpin our bipedalism, dextrous hands, bulbous heads, outstanding noses, and puny jaws.

The wide variety of adaptations that primates have made to life in trees and on the ground are reflected in their limb proportions and relative development of muscles. Compare Ardipithecus.

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Free-ranging primates exhibit a trove of physical and behavioral adaptations to fundamentally different ways of life, some of which may resemble those of our late Miocene—early Pleistocene predecessors i. Laboratory and field observations, particularly of great apes, indicate that earlier researchers grossly underestimated the intelligence, cognitive abilities, and sensibilities of nonhuman primates and perhaps also those of Pliocene—early Pleistocene hominins i. The study of inherited traits in individuals and the actions of the genes responsible for them in populations is vital to understanding human variability.

Although blood groups initially constituted the bulk of data, many other molecular traits, particularly DNA sequences , have been analyzed. At the turn of the 21st century, geographic populations were described in terms of gene frequencies, which were in turn used to model the history of population movements. This information, combined with linguistic and archaeological evidence, helps to resolve puzzles on the peopling of continents and archipelagoes. Traits that were used for racial classifications do not group neatly in patterns that would allow boundaries to be drawn among geographic populations see race , and none endows any population with more humanity than others.

The concept of biological races subspecies of Homo sapiens is invalid; biologically meaningful racial types are nonexistent, and all humans are mongrels. Problems of population composition, size, and stability are important in many ways. An immediate aspect is the varying rate of change that may occur in populations of different sizes. Theoretically, small populations are more susceptible to chance fluctuations than large populations. Both the natural environment and the economy of a particular society affect population size. Studies of human physiological adaptations to high-altitude, arid, frigid, and other environments , of nutrition , and of epidemiology have revealed just how versatile and vulnerable humans are.

Bioarchaeologists test hypotheses about relative mortality, population movements, wars, social status , political organization, and other demographic , epidemiological, and social phenomena in past societies by combining detailed knowledge of cultural features and artifacts , such as those related to mortuary practice, with an understanding of paleonutrition, paleopathology, and the discrete traits that can be detected from skeletons. Methods to assess rates of growth, skeletal age compared with chronological age, and the genetic, endocrinologic, and nutritional factors that affect growth in humans and other primates are foci of research by physical anthropologists in medical and dental schools, clinics, primate centres, and universities.

The relation between growth and socioeconomic status and other cultural factors receives considerable attention. The sequential emergence of teeth provides an index of development. Growth studies have tracked children through morphological and biochemical changes to discern why they grow.

Physical anthropologists are also involved in studies of aging , particularly with regard to skeletal changes such as osteoporosis. Bodily measurements are a mainstay of anthropological research. Digital calipers and other sophisticated instruments that load data directly into computers expedite data collection and analysis. The judicious selection of measurements and informed weighting of traits during analyses are essential. Statistical considerations are especially important in genetic and anthropometric research. The provision of clothing for masses of people depends on anthropometry.

Substantial sums have been saved because physical anthropologists measured a small sample of the population in a particular area and adjusted the clothing tariffs to the predicted distribution of bodily sizes and shapes. The components of body build—the different tissues and dimensions—have been studied by means of factor analysis and comparisons of siblings and twins. Their modes of inheritance and responses to environmental conditions are somewhat better understood today than they were when the science began. Via expert knowledge of the human skeleton , fingerprints , blood genetics, DNA sequencing , and archaeological methods, physical anthropologists provide invaluable assistance in the identification of victims and perpetrators of crimes and casualties of accidents and wars.

The need to adopt ethical standards in relation to them is becoming an increasingly public and consolidated stance at the same time as practically all the boundaries between human and nonhuman primates are dissipating. Between jungles and laboratories: studies on behavioral variability and cognition.

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Modern research on chimpanzee behavior can be classified into two major groups. On the one hand, there are the studies that focus on the intergroup variability of behaviors observed in wild chimpanzees De Waal, On the other, there is the research that emphasizes cognition, developed mainly in laboratories Tomasello, Chimpanzees are intelligent and sociable creatures whose behavior is strongly influenced by their experiences and their life together as a group.

For this reason, research on one group or the other differs in terms of contexts and is distinguishable in theoretical, epistemological and methodological terms. However, as far as we know, both continue to be members of the same species. So perhaps, in given contexts, what is valid for wild chimpanzees is also valid for captive chimpanzees.

The parameter for assessing the validity of such a claim can only be defined when we know how deep the influence of experience on the constitution of the ontology of chimpanzees really is. As with wild chimpanzees, in the s, studies of chimpanzees in humanized environments also experienced profound changes. At that time, the psychologist couple Beatrice and Allan Gardner began developing a project on language learning with chimpanzees received from the laboratories of the North American Space Agency Nasa , when the agency began to abandon the experiments with rockets crewed with animals Fouts, Mills, The Garners' assumption was that the absence of a vocal apparatus in chimpanzees does not necessarily mean that they do not have the cognitive ability to learn a non oral language.

They were integrated into fully humanized environments in which all researchers, interns and chimpanzees only communicated by means of ASL. The result was impressive. In addition to learning words and using them properly, the chimpanzees on the program created phrases and invented names for objects Fouts, Mills, Chimpanzees like Washoe intuited terms and described events in coherent contexts. Also since the late s, Susan Savage-Rumbaugh has dedicated herself to research on language skills among apes, especially bonobos, in humanized environments.

The main objective of her research and that of her collaborators is to check the learning and use of lexigrams by bonobos. According to the researchers, Kanzi, a year-old male bonobo with whom they had worked since she was born, understands three thousand words spoken in English.

1. Introduction: What is cognitive anthropology?

Moreover, she communicates through lexigrams, symbols inscribed on a board that correspond to familiar objects, favorite activities and concepts considered abstract. Currently, she is able to use lexigrams and combine them to form expressions in a 'protogram'. Data on cognition and transmission of behaviors arise predominantly from laboratory studies while data on variability of behavior patterns are the result of fieldwork.

The problem lies in the fact that primatologists do not consider laboratory chimpanzees possess culture, unlike wild chimpanzees.

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The first is at most 'acculturated' by humans Carpenter, Tomasello, Savage-Rumbaugh, The records on the variability of behaviors of wild chimpanzees are extremely rich Whiten et al. The primatologists operate from the standpoint that the basis of variability lies in transmission, but there is only one record on behavior transmission in the field Boesch, So the major challenge for primatologists dedicated to studying 'chimpanzee cultures' is dealing with a behavioral phenomenon whose essential feature, namely variability, is provided by transmission or by learning phenomena about which there are few consistent records Call, Tennie, ; Gruber et al.

From cultures to social learning: symbolic transmission, cognition and capacity. One of the most important current debates about what we can learn and discover about the human condition is related to phenomena linked to culture, language and cognition. Such phenomena can be classified as non-physical aspects of evolution. The most varied disciplines and some of the most important contemporary discussions converge in this sense. One of the core aspects of these discussions lies in the acknowledgement of the existence of several species of animals that possess a so-called 'social brain' Dunbar, Schultz, This is associated with the understanding that life in groups and the necessary skills for this recognition, interaction and communication capabilities, learning of behavior patterns appropriate to the group, etc.

However, it is important to remember, though, that 'social intelligence' is not the only form of intelligence to be found in the animal kingdom Thorndike, Indeed, Dunbar Oct. According to this hypothesis, primates evolved in order to be born with given cognitive and interactive capabilities, favorable to life in groups which, appropriately stimulated, promote the development of skills for cooperation and certain types of intelligence. Humans are a species that has a more developed 'social brain', followed by apes.

It follows logically that, even among nonhumans, there are behaviors related to life in groups that depend, though it is uncertain to what degree, upon the dynamics established between the members of the group itself. This focuses attention on social phenomena in nonhuman species that have that kind of brain. Within groups of wild chimpanzees, there are certain behavior patterns that can be classified according to some kind of divide, and it can be seen that such behaviors are transmitted from generation to generation with high levels of stability, despite also being susceptible to the possibility of innovation Davidson, McGrew, One of the essential features of such behaviors is that they are reproduced by vertical intergenerational , horizontal between members of the same group or oblique between members of different groups transmission Castro, Toro, , p.

Transmission of behaviors is studied by primatologists based on emphasis on the 'social' perspective Boesch, , p. According to Fragaszy , for example, learning between primates is essentially social.


In her analysis, the author replaces the emphasis on information sharing by the group dynamics in organizing activities and maintaining behaviors. All learning experience involves the exchange of meanings. Such meanings consist of social and asocial elements e. These elements influence the emotional and motivational states of the individuals and directly reflect on their behaviors.

All these factors constitute a 'network' that makes it impossible to disassociate the social factors from the asocial factors in relation to the individual. In this context, it is more appropriate to conceive of social learning as a set of factors that influence action and not as a specific, representational and abstract process of transmission of information Fragaszy, Van Schaik and Pradhan , p. According to them, in highly tolerant social organizations, social learning occurs through vertical, horizontal and diagonal transmission.

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In despotic groups, which are most common among primates, vertical transmission is predominant coupled together with some other types of transmissions Van Schaik, Pradhan, , p. According to these primatologists, modes of transmission may occur by observation followed by trial and error Boesch, , p. Despite the apparent similarity between the first and the last mechanism, the perfection of the result in behavior transmitted by imitation is almost immediate. In observation followed by trial and error, on the other hand, there are several steps between the time when neophytes have contact with the new behavior and the development of their ability to perform it satisfactorily.