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Dan Kuebler and Catherine Hadro on Purposeful Lab Podcast
Purposeful UniverseFebruary 20, 20242 min read

Purposeful Lab: Evolutionary Psychology—What Sets Humans Apart

In this episode of Purposeful Lab, Dan and Catherine explore the unique characteristics of the human brain that set us apart from other organisms. Delving into evolutionary psychology, they investigate how the development of the human mind and brain during childhood shapes our distinct identity as human beings. Touching on the science of brain evolution, the hosts navigate through the intricate interplay between biology and the essential role of social interaction in human development. 


Evolutionary Psychology in Humans vs. Primates 

One of the primary ways to distinguish primates from humans is through hominid fossils, which emerged about 7 million years ago. These fossils are the closest to humans, and the records show that there was a dramatic increase in brain size from hominids to Homo sapiens. This increase in size was roughly 3 to 4 times larger than the average primate. 

Additionally, what sets humans apart from primates is a radical difference in structure of the brain. Human brains are organized in a different way than primates so much so that the human brain takes much longer to develop than primate brains. 

What Sets Humans Apart in Cognitive Development

Human brains take longer to develop, especially in childhood. Children ages 4-12 are very slow in development. This is due to the fact that other animals typically learn through observation, but human children have to learn through the additional component of actually being taught. In that, humans often require that the passing of information come from another human. We have to be taught by others. 

What Sets Humans Apart in Prolonged Development

The primary reason for our prolonged development has to do with how social interactions set humans apart from all other species. We are inherently social creatures who have to learn about social normativity through extended periods of time rather than rapid evolution. In a real sense, we are dependent upon the existence of others from our species for development. 

Although other animals have social organization, the majority of the roles within their social hierarchies are circumscribed and hardwired. Within human social spheres, people must learn how to adapt to a wide array of social norms and all sorts of communities. 

What Sets the Human Brain Apart? 

Our brain is equipped to complete complex social tasks because of our unique neuroplasticity and cognitive awareness. We not only have a recognition of our own existence, but we recognize the existence of other minds, and we desire to know what they are thinking. We read the minds of others through facial expressions, eye contact, and body language. The interplay between all three conveys the thoughts of others, and our brain breaks down the meaning of it all. Additionally, our complex language helps us share our minds with others through concepts and syntax. 

Take a Listen 

This episode demonstrates the profoundly unique qualities that operate within humanity. Humans have evolved in such a manner that we are unlike all other animals. We are capable of higher brain function, navigation of social dynamics, complex language, and recognition of our own existence. The powers which humans embody points to the evident reality of a purposeful universe. As we learn more about evolutionary psychology and the human brain, the truth about our own nature being a sign of something greater becomes more clear. 


Purposeful Universe

The Purposeful Universe seeks to explore and present, through award winning videos, the abundant order in nature that funnels biological systems toward increasing levels of complexity and sophistication—suggesting that human life is the purposeful outcome of a complex, ordered system.