Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 559-579

First online:

Evolution, Development, and Human Social Cognition

  • Tyler J. WerehaAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Simon Fraser University Email author 
  • , Timothy P. RacineAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Simon Fraser University

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Explaining the causal origins of what are taken to be uniquely human capacities for understanding the mind in the first years of life is a primary goal of social cognitive development research, which concerns so called “theory of mind” or “mindreading” skills. We review and discuss particular examples of this research in the context of its underlying evolutionary conceptual framework known as the neo-Darwinian modern synthesis. It is increasingly recognized that the modern synthesis is limited in its neglect of developmental issues. A recent convergence of work from diverse sources, including but not limited to evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) and developmental systems approaches, demonstrate the need for a developmental expansion of modern evolutionary theory. We attempt to show that not only are nativist explanations of early human social cognition vulnerable to the criticisms of this developmental shift in thinking, but that these criticisms also problematize the dominant and more mainstream theories in early social cognitive development research. We conclude by discussing the importance of developmental analysis in understanding the ontogeny of cognitive capacities in individuals as well as species.