ONLINE LECTURE Judith Burkart: “The Cooperative Breeding Model of Human Evolution. Insights From Marmoset Monkeys”

October 6 2021, 15:30 – 17:00 (CET)

To understand the primate origins of the human mind, it is worthwhile to focus not only on great apes, but also on the callitrichid monkeys. Like humans, but unlike great apes, callitrichids are cooperative breeders: group members other than the mother cooperate in raising offspring, including proactively offering food. According to the cooperative breeding model, this reproductive system played an important role during human evolution, explaining many of our life-history traits and our demographic success. Here, we focus on the psychological dimension of the cooperative breeding model, and present comparative data that show that across primates, prosociality and social tolerance are associated with cooperative breeding, and can have downstream consequences of increased performance in socio-cognitive contexts and vocal communication. Next, we turn to the perspective of immatures – what are the implications of growing up as a cooperative breeder? Since helpers are not always readily available, and mothers typically already busy with the next offspring, immatures have to work hard to engage them.  Callitrichid immatures use babbling-like behavior to do so; it not only speeds up vocal development, but adults are more likely to approach and interact with babbling immatures. When during evolutionary time, human immatures where first exposed to the challenges of growing up as a cooperative breeder, they already had inherited from their great-ape like ancestors rather strong socio-cognitive skills that they could now use to master these novel challenges. The explicit focus on immatures may thus well explain why many socio-cognitive skills emerge so early during human development.

Judith Burkart is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Zürich. She studies cognitive and psychological consequences of cooperative breeding, primate cognitive evolution, evolution of prosociality, and the cooperative breeding hypothesis. You can find a list of her publications on these topics here.

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