, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 213-215
Date: 23 Jul 2004

The role of humans in the cognitive development of apes revisited

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Call and Tomasello (1996) reviewed all of the extant literature on ape cognition, with a special eye to comparing the performance of enculturated and non-enculturated apes. The basic finding was that enculturated apes seem to have developed special cognitive skills in two domains: imitation and gestural communication. We outlined four different mechanisms that might possibly give rise to these differences: simple exposure to human life, emulation learning of human actions, explicit training by humans, and being treated by humans as intentional beings. Our conclusion was that being treated as an intentional being is probably key and it “may lead to a fundamental change in the social cognition of apes such that they begin⋯ to view others as intentional agents” (p. 394), and that this may explain the observed differences in imitation and gestural communication.

Bering (2004) does not believe that any apes, enculturated or otherwise, understand intentions. His alternative hypothesis for exp ...