Cognitive Science: An Introduction/Methodology: How Can We Understand the Evolution of Intelligence?

There are several potential sources of information on the evolution of intelligence available to researchers, as well as a number of different ways evolutionary thinking has been applied to other problems relevant to cognitive science. This section will provide a brief description of some methodologies.


Brain EvolutionEdit

Heterochrony – Streidter 2005:114 encephalization quotient (EQ) how directly does genetic information determine neural structure? Not very

- Biological evolution definitely has access to the broad differentiation between brain regions and the varying length of developmental time available to those regions (resulting in changes in size and complexity). (Finlay) Gene expression and epigenesis likely has a significant role here, but much more research is needed on the topic.

One of the least ambiguous examples is the evolution of lateralization. A single change, the delay in the development of the left brain, results in an incredible amount of functional localization. (Schore 2001)

Comparative Studies of Animal CognitionEdit

Ethology & Behavioural Ecology


Ethology & neuroethology – this distinction is important


“(i) proximate, what we would call mechanistic, which could include neuroscience, perception, and cognition, (ii) phylogeny, by which he meant inheritance from progenitor species, (iii) ontogeny, what animals experience during sensitive periods in development, and (iv) ultimate, which means functional adaptation as described by Darwin.”

Tinbergen, N. (1963). On the aims and methods of ethology. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 20, 410-433.

Evolutionary LinguisticsEdit

As Blevins (2001, 2004) has pointed out, the acquisition of grammars is subject to cultural transmission, and therefore features of grammars may be analysed in terms of cultural evolution as discussed above. From this proposal it follows that languages can be conceived of as being adapted to the sources of variation typical of the speech apparatus and human learning biases, (e.g. Christiansen et al. 1997) with the implication that many proposed linguistic universals are better analysed as being the result of diachronic and synchronic forces interacting to create statistical optima with varying degrees of stability diachronically and therefore differing frequencies amongst the corpora of known grammars synchronically. This is an interesting application of evolutionary theory to a field from which it is typically absent, but it has not yet developed into any coherent research programme. Furthermore, for a variety of technical reasons it is unclear how exactly it might ever develop into one. Nonetheless, the underlying insight remains valid.

6. Concluding Remarks It is clear that the above discussion of evolution in all its guises has profound implications for our understanding of cognition. However, it remains unclear precisely how. There is no universally defined field, or even theory, of cognitive evolution. Little is known definitely, and as such, the underlying assumptions brought to its study by the researchers’ varied backgrounds can be difficult to challenge. The result is a splintered and diverse literature that can be difficult to integrate.