Cognitive evolutionary psychology without representational nativism

Robert Cummins
University of California, Davis
Pierre Poirier
Université du Québec à Montréal
A viable evolutionary cognitive psychology requires that specific cognitive capacities be (a) heritable and (b) ‘quasi-independent’ from other heritable traits. They must be heritable because there can be no selection for traits that are not. They must be quasi-independent from other heritable traits, since adaptive variations in a specific cognitive capacity could have no distinctive consequences for fitness if effecting those variations required widespread changes in other unrelated traits and capacities as well. These requirements would be satisfied by innate cognitive modules, as the dominant paradigm in evolutionary cognitive psychology assumes. However, those requirements would also be satisfied by heritable learning biases, perhaps in the form of architec- tural or chronotopic constraints, that operated to increase the canalization of specific cognitive capacities in the ancestral environment (Cummins and Cummins 1999). As an organism develops, cognitive capacities that are highly canalized as the result of heritable learning biases might result in an organism that is behaviourally quite similar to an organism whose innate modules come on line as the result of various environ- mental triggers. Taking this possibility seriously is increasingly important as the case against innate cognitive modules becomes increasingly strong.
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