Comparative psychologists have become increasingly skilled at comparing the psychology of multiple species while evolutionary biologists have developed phylogenetic techniques to test evolutionary hypotheses for traits within and between clades. Together with Evolutionary Biologist Charlie Nunn at Harvard University, we obtained funds from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) to establish methods and a large international collaboration that would bring the methods of comparative psychology and evolutionary biology together in order to test hypotheses for how cognition evolves.
We are are testing the phylogenetics of psychology by 1) validating comparative tests of inhibitory control, social skills, and spatial memory at the Duke Lemur Center for use with species of lemurs, monkeys, apes, and a variety of non-primates, 2) developing an international team of collaborators from half a dozen countries with access to large samples of dozens of non-human species and 3) conducting proof of concept analyses to demonstrate that this new synthesis of methodologies can provide powerful tests of cognitive evolutionary hypotheses. In the age of comparative genomics, our data will provide the basis for revealing genetic systems underlying cognitive evolution. In understanding how animal cognition evolves, we will gain inferences into how human cognition evolves.