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Four routes of cognitive evolution are distinguished: phylogenetic construction, in which natural selection produces qualitative change to the way a cognitive mechanism operates (language); phylogenetic inflection, in which natural selection biases the input to a cognitive mechanism (imprinting and spatial memory); ontogenetic construction, in which developmental selection alters the way a cognitive mechanism operates (face recognition and theory of mind); and ontogenetic inflection, in which developmental selection changes the input to a cognitive mechanism (imitation). This framework integrates findings from evolutionary psychology (i.e., all research on the evolution of mentality and behavior). In contrast with human nativist evolutionary psychology, it recognizes the adaptive significance of developmental processes, conserves the distinction between cognitive and noncognitive mechanisms, and encompasses research on human and nonhuman animals.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychol Rev

Publication Date





713 - 727


Cognition, Humans, Memory, Phylogeny, Psychological Theory, Recognition (Psychology), Space Perception