Minds and Machines

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 463–480 | Cite as

Dominance hierarchies and the evolution of human reasoning

  • Denise Dellarosa Cummins


Research from ethology and evolutionary biology indicates the following about the evolution of reasoning capacity. First, solving problems of social competition and cooperation have direct impact on survival rates and reproductive success. Second, the social structure that evolved from this pressure is the dominance hierarchy. Third, primates that live in large groups with complex dominance hierarchies also show greater neocortical development, and concomitantly greater cognitive capacity. These facts suggest that the necessity of reasoning effectively about dominance hierarchies left an indelible mark on primate reasoning architectures, including that of humans. In order to survive in a dominance hierarchy, an individual must be capable of (a) making rank discriminations, (b) recognizing what is forbidden and what is permitted based one's rank, and (c) deciding whether to engage in or refriin from activities that will allow one to move up in rank. The first problem is closely tied to the capacity for transitive reasoning, while the second and third are intimately related to the capacity for deontic reasoning. I argue that the human capacity for these types of reasoning have evolutionary roots that reach deeper into our ancestral past than the emergence of the hominid line, and the operation of these evolutionarily primitive reasoning systems can be seen in the development of human reasoning and domain-specific effects in adult reasoning.

Key words

Human reasoning evolution deontic reasoning transitive reasoning non-human primates neocortical ratio dominance hierarchy 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Denise Dellarosa Cummins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCalifornia State UniversitySacramentoUSA

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