Humans - The Analogy Making Species

Humans - The Analogy-Making Species (European Commission Sixth Framework: NEST-2004-Path-HUM)
Boicho Kokinov, Project Coordinator
Robert French, Co-Coordinator
Total Amount of the Grant: 1.8 M euros
Duration: 3 years

The ability to make analogies lies at the heart of human cognition and is a fundamental mechanism that enables humans to engage in complex mental processes such as thinking, categorization, and learning, and, in general, understanding the world and acting effectively on it based on her/his past experience. This project focuses on understanding these uniquely human mechanisms of analogy-making, and exploring their evolution and development. A highly experienced, interdisciplinary, and international team will study and compare the performance of primates, infants, young children, healthy adults, as well as children and adults with abnormal brain functioning. An interdisciplinary methodology will be used to pursue this goal, one that includes computational modeling, psychological experimentation, comparative studies, developmental studies, and brain imaging.
The ability to see a novel experience, object, situation or action as being “the same” as an old one, and then to act in an approximately appropriate manner (and then fine-tuned to fit the novel experience), is, almost unquestionably, one of the capacities that sets humans apart from all other animals. What are the underlying mechanisms that allow us to do this? How did they evolve in the population? How do they develop in an individual? How do they differ from “the same” mechanisms in primates? The results from this project will contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms of analogy-making, their origin, evolution and development and will lead to advances, not only in our basic knowledge of human cognition, but also in the development of educational strategies to help children and young people to be more efficient learners and to achieve a better and deeper understanding of the world in which they live.
This project brings together the expertise of a consortium consisting of the leading researchers in analogy-making in Europe — namely, the New Bulgarian University (Coordinator: Boicho Kokinov), the LEAD-CNRS at the University of Burgundy in France (Co-coordinator: Robert French), Cambridge University, the University of Heidelberg, University College, Dublin, the Institute for Cognitive Science and Technology (CNR) in Italy, Birkbeck College in London, and the University of British Columbia in Canada.