Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cognitive and Cultural Diversity in Human Evolution


Most well-accepted models of cognitive evolution define the modern human mind in terms of an amalgamation of species-specific cognitive mechanisms, many of which are described as adaptive. Likewise, these models often use the rich archaeological record of Homo sapiens to illustrate how ‘uniquely human’ mental abilities gave our species an evolutionary advantage over extinct hominins. Recent evidence from various fields, however, indicates that closely related species, particularly Neanderthals and Denisovans, likely had cognitive capacities very similar to ours, and that several key aspects of ‘modern’ cognition are not exclusive to our lineage. The sum of these data therefore requires a timely revision of human cognitive evolution models. On the one hand, claims of species-specific cognitive mechanisms have been weakened. On the other hand, there are tangible differences among extinct and extant humans that call for an explanation. One way to accommodate these differences is to understand cognition as shaped by sociocultural and environmental factors, and to argue for culture-specific rather than species-specific cognition over the course of human evolution.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View