Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 247–266 | Cite as

The origins of causal cognition in early hominins

  • Martin Stuart-FoxEmail author


Studies of primate cognition have conclusively shown that humans and apes share a range of basic cognitive abilities. As a corollary, these same studies have also focussed attention on what makes humans unique, and on when and how specifically human cognitive skills evolved. There is widespread agreement that a major distinguishing feature of the human mind is its capacity for causal reasoning. This paper argues that causal cognition originated with the use made of indirect natural signs by early hominins forced to adapt to variable late Miocene and early Pliocene environments; that early hominins evolved an innate tendency to search for such signs and infer their causes; that causal inference required the existence of incipient working memory; and that causal relationships were stored through being integrated into spatial maps to create increasingly complex causal models of the world.


Hominin evolution Causal cognition Natural signs Cognitive maps Working memory Overimitation Belief 



I should like to record my thanks to Kim Sterelny and an anonymous reviewer for their criticisms of an earlier draft of this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of History, Philosophy, Religion and ClassicsThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

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