Table of Contents
International Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume 2011, Article ID 741357, 12 pages
Research Article

The Implications of the Working Memory Model for the Evolution of Modern Cognition

Departments of Anthropology and Psychology, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, CO 80918, USA

Received 17 September 2010; Accepted 18 January 2011

Academic Editor: Parth Chauhan

Copyright © 2011 Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


What distinguishes the cognition of biologically modern humans from that of more archaic populations such as Neandertals? The norm in paleoanthropology has been to emphasize the role of language and symbolism. But the modern mind is more than just an archaic mind enhanced by symbol use. It also possesses an important problem solving and planning component. In cognitive neuroscience these advanced planning abilities have been extensively investigated through a formal model known as working memory. The working memory model is now well-enough established to provide a powerful lens through which paleoanthropologists can view the fossil and archaeological records. The challenge is methodological. The following essay reviews the controversial hypothesis that a recent enhancement of working memory capacity was the final piece in the evolution of modern cognition.