ANT430H5S Special Problems in Biological Anthropology and Archaeology (SCI)

Topic Title: Human Perspectives on Animal Intelligence

  • Instructor: Eve Smeltzer
  • Offered in the Winter 2024 "S" term at UTM
  • Prerequisite(s): ANT202H5 or ANT203H5


This class will investigate animal cognition with an anthropological twist by approaching the literature from a combination of biological, psychological, and anthropological perspectives. We will discuss the impacts of historical (and continuing) anthropocentrism in animal cognition research with a particular emphasis on non-human primates.

While scientists strive for objectivity, we are not impermeable to our social environment. In modern efforts to improve scientific objectivity, anthropomorphism has become taboo in the study of animal behaviour and cognition. However, the effort to remove the humanness from animals and the animalness from humans has, in many ways, resurrected the flawed scala naturae evolutionary ladder that places humans separate from, and above, animals. Assuming that traits are anthropomorphic to begin with (rather than mammalomorphic or primatomorphic) implies that the characteristics in question are uniquely human… but are they?

To disentangle these concepts, we will focus on empirical studies of animal intelligence (e.g., tool use, communication, and social intelligence). To close the course, we will discuss how misconceptions of animal behaviour and cognition can influence our interpretations of hominin evolution.

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To enrol, please visit ACORN.