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What is special about the human brain?$
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Richard Passingham

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199230136

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199230136.001.0001

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Social cognition

Social cognition

(p.173) Chapter 9 Social cognition
What is special about the human brain?

Richard Passingham

Oxford University Press

Social cognition covers a wide range of abilities such as empathy, joint attention, intentions, the understanding of beliefs and other mental states, cooperation, moral judgements, and the capacity for altruism. Hermann et al compared chimpanzees and orang-utans with children of two-and-a-half years old on six aspects of social cognition — space, quantities, causality, social learning, communication, and theory of mind — and found that the children surpassed the chimpanzees and orang-utans on five out of the six tests that they were presented with. This chapter discuses the specialized ability of the human brain to perform social cognition functions and explores several explanations for the limited ability of apes to carry out social cognition functions despite having the same ancestry and sharing certain physical attributes.

Keywords:   social cognition, empathy, joint attention, intentions, cooperation, altruism, Hermann, chimpanzees, orangutans, children

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