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Prog Brain Res. 2012;195:71-87. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53860-4.00004-0.

Embracing covariation in brain evolution: large brains, extended development, and flexible primate social systems.

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1
Behavioral and Evolutionary Neuroscience Group, Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, USA. charvetcj@gmail.com

Abstract

Brain size, body size, developmental length, life span, costs of raising offspring, behavioral complexity, and social structures are correlated in mammals due to intrinsic life-history requirements. Dissecting variation and direction of causation in this web of relationships often draw attention away from the factors that correlate with basic life parameters. We consider the "social brain hypothesis," which postulates that overall brain and the isocortex are selectively enlarged to confer social abilities in primates, as an example of this enterprise and pitfalls. We consider patterns of brain scaling, modularity, flexibility of brain organization, the "leverage," and direction of selection on proposed dimensions. We conclude that the evidence supporting selective changes in isocortex or brain size for the isolated ability to manage social relationships is poor. Strong covariation in size and developmental duration coupled with flexible brains allow organisms to adapt in variable social and ecological environments across the life span and in evolution.

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