The uniquely human capacity to throw evolved from a non-throwing primate: an evolutionary dissociation between action and perception
Humans are uniquely endowed with the ability to engage in accurate, high-momentum throwing. Underlying this ability is a unique morphological adaptation that enables the characteristic rotation of the arm and pelvis. What is unknown is whether the psychological mechanisms that accompany the act of throwing are also uniquely human. Here we explore this problem by asking whether free-ranging rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), which lack both the morphological and neural structures to throw, nonetheless recognize the functional properties of throwing. Rhesus not only understand that human throwing represents a threat, but that some aspects of a throwing event are more relevant than others; specifically, rhesus are sensitive to the kinematics, direction and speed of the rotating arm, the direction of the thrower's eye gaze and the object thrown. These results suggest that the capacity to throw did not coevolve with psychological mechanisms that accompany throwing; rather, this capacity may have built upon pre-existing perceptual processes. These results are consistent with a growing body of work showing that non-human animals often exhibit perceptual competencies that do not show up in their motor responses, suggesting evolutionary dissociations between the systems of perception that provide understanding of the world and those that mediate action on the world.