September 08, 2007
Preschool Kids More Socially Adept Than Chimps

2.5 year old children are better at following adult examples than are orangutans and chimpanzees.

Apes bite and try to break a tube to retrieve the food inside while children follow the experimenter's example to get inside the tube to retrieve the prize, showing that even before preschool, toddlers are more sophisticated in their social learning skills than their closest primate relatives, according to a report published in the 7 September issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

This innate proficiency allows them to excel in both physical and social skills as they begin school and progress through life.

"We compared three species to determine which abilities and skills are distinctly human," explained Esther Herrmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and lead author of the research paper. Humans differ from their great ape relatives because human brains are about three times the size of the closest primate relatives and humans have language, symbolic math and scientific reasoning.

That extra gray matter makes its presence felt at a very young age.

The human kids were equally in ability to the primates in many areas but showed a clear advantage in understanding and communicating.

About 230 subjects chimps, orangutans and 2.5 year-old children were compared using a battery of tests and found all to be about equal in the physical cognitive skills of space, quantities and causality. In the social skills of communication, social learning and theory-of-mind skills, the children were correct in about 74 percent of the trials, while the two ape species were correct only about 33 percent of the time.

The researchers chose to study children at an age when they have about the same physical skill level of chimpanzees. Children at 2.5 years are old enough to handle these tasks and people have not taught them too much so they provide a good comparison, Herrmann said. The apes ranged in age from 3 to 21.

Some day (maybe 50 to 75 years from now) some evolutionary anthropologists will perform a similar set of experiments comparing genetically natural 2 and 3 year old humans to genetically engineered 2 and 3 year old transhumans. I predict the gap in intellectual abilities between the humans and transhumans will be larger than the gap measured here between humans and other primates.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 September 08 03:28 PM  Brain Evolution

kgeorge said at September 8, 2007 3:41 PM:

Lets see the kids learn how to forage for fruit from chimps then we will jump to conclusions.

David A. Young said at September 10, 2007 9:22 AM:

So, kgeorge, are you saying you believe human children of the indicated age would NOT be good at foraging? I find that highly unlikely. Just from nature films I've seen of present day hunter-gatherer remnant societies, children of that age are typically shown assisting their parents (usually their mothers) in precisely these types of activities. Why would you think they WOULDN'T be good at such relatively simple tasks?

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