Recent research on developmental science and cognitive neuroscience suggests that human cognitive abilities are built on a set of core knowledge systems emerging during early infancy, which deal with the representation of objects, numbers and space. We investigated whether these knowledge systems are the result of specific learning experiences, or are innately predisposed in the brain. In order to do so, we made use of a precocial species, the domestic chick (Gallus gallus), in a controlled laboratory environment. The rapid development of motor skills in this species enabled us to perform precise control of experience and behavioural testing at a very early age. Newly hatched chicks are able to represent physical objects and object-object interactions, numerousness and numerical relationships, and geometrical properties in the spatial layout. Evidence that some basic cognitive abilities can be observed in animal experiments, which involve controlled-rearing procedures, provide converging support to the nativist theory of the endowment of cognitive mechanisms in the vertebrate brain.
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