Humanity has regarded itself as intellectually superior to other species for millennia, yet human cognitive uniqueness remains poorly understood. Here, we evaluate candidate traits plausibly underlying our distinctive cognition (including mental time travel, tool use, problem solving, social cognition, and communication) as well as domain generality, and we consider how human cognitive uniqueness may have evolved. We conclude that there are no traits present in humans and absent in other animals that in isolation explain our species’ superior cognitive performance; rather, there are many cognitive domains in which humans possess unusually potent capabilities compared to those found in other species. Humans are flexible cognitive all-rounders, whose proficiency arises through interactions and reinforcement between cognitive domains at multiple scales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-716
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2021


  • Human uniqueness
  • Cognition
  • Culture
  • Social cognition
  • Communication
  • Human evolution


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