A new study at Harvard University has shed light on the key differences in human and animal cognition.
Marc Hauser, professor of psychology, biological anthropology, and organismic and evolutionary biology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences proposed four key differences in human and animal cognition.
"Animals share many of the building blocks that comprise human thought, but paradoxically, there is a great cognitive gap between humans and animals," said Hauser.
"By looking at key differences in cognitive abilities, we find the elements of human cognition that are uniquely human. The challenge is to identify which systems animals and human share, which are unique, and how these systems interact and interface with one another," he added.
The four novel components are the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding; to apply the same "rule" or solution to one problem to a different and new situation; to create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input; and to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input.
Hauser said that animals have "laser beam" intelligence, in which a specific solution is used to solve a specific problem. But these solutions cannot be applied to new situations or to solve different kinds of problem.
On the other hand, humans have "floodlight" cognition that permits them to use thought processes in innovative ways and apply the solution of one problem to another situation.
"For human beings, these key cognitive abilities may have opened up other avenues of evolution that other animals have not exploited, and this evolution of the brain is the foundation upon which cultural evolution has been built," said Hauser.
The new work was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.