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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1999 Aug;30(2):164-75.

Possible evolutionary origins of cognitive brain lateralization.

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Department of Psychology, Animal Cognition and Comparative Neuroscience Laboratory, University of Trieste, Via dell'Università 7, 34123, Trieste, Italy.


Despite the substantial literature on the functional architecture of the asymmetries of the human brain, which has been accumulating for more than 130 years since Dax and Broca's early reports, the biological foundations of cerebral asymmetries are still poorly understood. Recent advances in comparative cognitive neurosciences have made available new animal models that have started to provide unexpected insights into the evolutionary origins and neuronal mechanisms of cerebral asymmetries. Animal model-systems, particularly those provided by the avian brain, highlight the interrelations of genetic, hormonal and environmental events to produce neural and behavioural asymmetries. Novel evidences showing that functional and structural lateralization of the brain is widespread among vertebrates (including fish, reptiles and amphibians) have accumulated rapidly. Perceptual asymmetries, in particular, seem to be ubiquitous in everyday behaviour of most species of animals with laterally placed eyes; in organisms with wider binocular overlap (e.g., amphibians), they appear to be retained for initial detection of stimuli in the extreme lateral fields. We speculate that adjustment of head position and eye movements may play a similar role in mammals with frontal vision as does the choice for right or left lateral visual fields in animals with laterally placed eyes. A first attempt to trace back the origins of brain asymmetry to early vertebrates is presented, based on the hypothesis that functional incompatibility between the logical demands associated with very basic cognitive functions is central to the phenomenon of cerebral lateralization.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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