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J Comp Psychol. 2010 Aug;124(3):252-260. doi: 10.1037/a0018894.

Species differences in executive function correlate with hippocampus volume and neocortex ratio across nonhuman primates.

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British Academy Centenary Research Project.


A persistent debate in behavioral research is whether brain size or architecture relates to cognitive performance. A growing body of evidence has demonstrated correlations between brain size and ecological and behavioral tasks. These studies are premised on a causal link between brain size and cognitive function, although this association has little empirical backing. We show, for a set of 46 species from 17 primate genera, that competence on a series of eight executive function cognitive tasks both correlate across tasks and with brain size and architecture across species. Our model selection approach showed that, although several measures of brain component volumes are significantly associated with performance, hippocampus size is the best predictor of overall performance. The best performing model also includes total brain size and relative neocortex size. Additionally, absolute measures are much more predictive of performance than relative measures of brain and brain component size. These results are consistent with the hippocampus' role in learning, and the executive brain (neocortex) being important for problem solving and consolidation. Our findings challenge and extend those of previous analyses by clarifying the relationship between overall brain size and specific regional volumes. They also suggest that commonly used indices of encephalization, such as residuals of brain volume regressed on body size, may confound rather than clarify matters.

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