Over the last few decades, comparative cognitive research has focused on the pinnacles of mental evolution, asking all-or-nothing questions such as which animals (if any) possess a theory of mind, culture, linguistic abilities, future planning, and so on. Research programs adopting this top-down perspective have often pitted one taxon against another, resulting in sharp dividing lines. Insight into the underlying mechanisms has lagged behind. A dramatic change in focus now seems to be under way, however, with increased appreciation that the basic building blocks of cognition might be shared across a wide range of species. We argue that this bottom-up perspective, which focuses on the constituent capacities underlying larger cognitive phenomena, is more in line with both neuroscience and evolutionary biology.