The co-evolution of language and emotions

Eva Jablonka*, Simona Ginsburg, Daniel Dor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

We argue that language evolution started like the evolution of reading and writing, through cultural evolutionary processes. Genuinely new behavioural patterns emerged from collective exploratory processes that individuals could learn because of their brain plasticity. Those cultural-linguistic innovative practices that were consistently socially and culturally selected drove a process of genetic accommodation of both general and language-specific aspects of cognition. We focus on the affective facet of this culture-driven cognitive evolution, and argue that the evolution of human emotions coevolved with that of language. We suggest that complex tool manufacture and alloparenting played an important role in the evolution of emotions, by leading to increased executive control and inter subjective sensitivity. This process, which can be interpreted as a special case of self-domestication, culminated in the construction of human-specific social emotions, which facilitated information sharing. Once in place, language enhanced the inhibitory control of emotions, enabled the development of novel emotions and emotional capacities, and led to a human mentality that departs in fundamental ways from that of other apes. We end by suggesting experimental approaches that can help in evaluating some of these proposals and hence lead to better understanding of the evolutionary biology of language and emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2152-2159
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume367
Issue number1599
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

Keywords

  • Gene-culture co-evolution
  • Genetic assimilation
  • Language evolution
  • Plasticity
  • Self-domestication
  • Social emotions

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