From the process of organic evolution to the analysis of insect societies as self-organizing systems, biology is full of awe-inspiring examples of complexity arising from simplicity. Yet in the contemporary study of animal cognition, demonstrations that complex human-like behavior arises from simple mechanisms rather than from ‘higher’ processes, such as insight or theory of mind, are often seen as uninteresting and ‘killjoy’, almost a denial of mental continuity between other species and humans. At the same time, however, research elsewhere in psychology increasingly reveals an unexpected role in human behavior for simple, unconscious and sometimes irrational processes shared by other animals. Greater appreciation of such mechanisms in nonhuman species would contribute to a deeper, more truly comparative psychology.
Graeme S. Halford, William H. Wilson and Steven Phillips: Relational knowledge: the foundation of higher cognition
Accumulating evidence on the nature, function and acquisition of relational knowledge indicates a crucial role of such knowledge in higher cognitive processes. In this review, we specify the essential properties of relational knowledge, together with the role it plays in reasoning, categorisation, planning, quantification and language. Furthermore, we discuss the processes involved in its acquisition and how these processes have been implemented in contemporary neural network models. We present evidence demonstrating that relational knowledge integrates heuristic and analytic cognition, is important for symbolic processes and the creation of novelty, activates specific regions of the prefrontal cortex, and is the most recently evolved and slowest-developing cognitive process. Arguably, relational knowledge represents the core of higher cognition.