Aggressive Mimicry and the Evolution of the Human Cognitive Niche

Published in Human Nature, 2023

Recommended citation: Moser, C., Buckner, W., Sarian, M., Winking, J. (2023). Aggressive Mimicry and the Evolution of the Human Cognitive Niche. Human Nature.

The evolution of deception is a major question in the science of human origins. Several hypotheses have been proposed for its evolution. As part of a suite of cognitive traits, these explanations are often packaged under either the Social Brain Hypothesis, which seeks to explain the current adaptive use of this suite of cognitive traits in human social contexts, and the Foraging Brain Hypothesis, which seeks to explain how external environmental drivers led to a change in the human dietary niche with a subsequent increase in foraging-specific behaviors. As these hypotheses are often presented as competing schools of thought, few lines have been proposed linking these competing explanations together. Utilizing cross-cultural data gathered from the Human Relations Area File, we identify numerous (n = 366) examples of the application of deception towards prey across 147 cultures. By comparing similar behaviors in non-human animals which utilize a hunting strategy known as aggressive mimicry, we suggest a potential pathway through which the evolution of deception may have taken place. Rather than deception evolving within social contexts, we suggest social applications of deception in humans could have evolved from an original context of these applications towards prey. We discuss this framework with regards to the evolution of other mental traits including language, theory of mind, and empathy.

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