Université de Strasbourg

"Theory of Mind" precursors

Comparative study between human infants and nonhuman primates on the track of the "Theory of Mind" precursors - Discrimination of prosocial versus antisocial behaviours

USIAS Fellow: Hélène Meunier

A still open question is whether animals share with us some genetic endowment and social environment allowing them to acquire the ability to think about the thoughts of others in the same way than human children do. There is now a substantial evidence for psychological state attribution in chimpanzees and recent systematic studies highlight the interest of enlarging research on cognition evolution to monkey species to be able to draw reliable inferences on the evolutionary dynamics of intelligence. In this project, we will investigate the preferences of young children and monkeys between prosocial versus antisocial behaviour, using a single battery of tests through an innovative experimental design, mainly developed in our laboratory, allowing a systematic and reliable comparative approach, regardless the considered primate species. Our experiments can be conducted without the presence of a human experimenter for nonhuman species, whereas classically in comparative studies, nonhuman species are at a disadvantage because they are dealing with humans, a species other than their own. Moreover, the animals will be tested in their familiar social environment and in semi-free ranging conditions, which guarantees a high level of animal welfare and thus of scientific results. Whether positive or negative, the results of our experiments will be a precious source of information in regards of current hypotheses and still open debates on what makes human cognition so different from that of other species.

Investissements d'Avenir