To understand evolution

Comparing cognitive abilities across evolutionarily closely related species can provide hypotheses about how evolution occurred. Darwin's inclusion of minds in his principle of evolutionary continuity opened the area of nonhuman animal intelligence to scientific scrutiny. Because there are no fossils of behavior—only of physical structure and artifacts that imply behavioral capacities and inclinations—the relationship between structural and behavioral capacities in currently existing species is a major window into evolution. Studies of cognitive abilities across primate species provide understanding of human evolution. The search for understanding of our own species and its evolution guides much research on animal cognition. Evolutionary continuity also underlies the investigation of animal cognition in attempts to develop animal models for human phenomena. In some cases it is difficult to study a psychological process directly in humans. For example, although it is apparent that human memory relies on both verbal and nonverbal processes, it is difficult to study nonverbal memory in humans, who encode almost all information linguistically.

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