The social function of intelligence
Why are humans able to communicate with each other using symbolic language? Why can we follow and apply the rules of inductive and deductive logic? Why can we manipulate numbers? Why can some people understand physics?!!! All our cognitive abilities developed in order to solve problems in our environment - and the biggest problems our ancestors faced were each other!
Nick Humphrey wrote a paper called 'The social function of intellect'. The following is an abridged excerpt from that piece of work.
'Some years ago I made a discovery ... a cage is a bad place in which to keep a monkey. I was studying the recovery of vision in a rhesus monkey, Helen, from whom the visual cortex had been surgically removed ... When, at length, five years after the operation, she was released from her cage and taken for walks in the open field at Madingley her sight suddenly burgeoned and within a few weeks she had recovered almost perfect spatial vision [which had been absent since the operation]'(Humphrey, 1976, p. 308).
Since that enlightening experience, Humphrey looked anxiously through the wire mesh of monkey's cages in research settings - in particular he mentions those of Robert Hinde. The following describes what he saw:
'They live in social groups of eight or nine animals in relatively large cages. But these cages are almost empty of objects, there is nothing to manipulate, nothing to explore ... So I looked - and seeing this barren environment, thought of the stultifying effect it must have on the monkey's intellect. And then one day I looked again and saw a half-weaned infant pestering its mother, two adolescents engaged in a mock battle, an old male grooming a female whilst another female tried to sidle up to him, and I suddenly saw the scene with new eyes; forget about the absence of objects, these monkeys had each other to manipulate and explore' (Humphrey, 1976, p. 308).
Evolutionary pressures shaped the human mind to move from our ancestor's examining their relationship to static things in the physical environment, to being able to examine and modify their social environment as well. Our intelligence is adapted for the social milieu, as civilisation has been too short to have had any important evolutionary consequences; although we are capable of dealing with non-social problems. In saying that, it is evident that we do have cognitive biases that allow us to process social information much better that non-social information.
The Watson selection task shows how our information processing abilities
are dependent on content (Cosmides & Tooby, 1997).
They were then asked what two cards they would turn over to confirm whether the rule is true. Most people find this task quite difficult, and the majority choose the wrong cards. Cosmides and Tooby (1997) report correct response rates as low as 5-25%. Which ones would you turn over? (Solution at bottom of page) However, if the content on the cards is changed so that the participants have to solve a reasoning task based on social interactions - such as someone cheating on a social contract, then Cosmides and Tooby (1997) report that about 65-80% of people will choose correctly. This shows that our ability to reason works best when the content of the task is based on social interactions.
Solution: The cards that you should turn over are the E and the 7.
If the E does not have an even number or the 7 has a vowel on the back,
then the rule is disproved. The rule only gives a condition specific
to cards with vowels. It does not say that a consonant cannot have an
even number, and neither does the rule say that an even numbers can
only be on the back of vowels.