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Understanding the human brain: insights from comparative biology

DeCasien, Alex R. and Barton, Robert A. and Higham, James P. (2022) 'Understanding the human brain: insights from comparative biology.', Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 26 (5). pp. 432-445.


Human brains are exceptionally large, support distinctive cognitive processes, and evolved by natural selection to mediate adaptive behavior. Comparative biology situates the human brain in evolutionary context to illuminate how it has been shaped by selection and how its structure relates to evolutionary function, while identifying the developmental and molecular changes that were involved. Recent applications of powerful phylogenetic methods have made new findings, some of which overturn conventional wisdom about how brains evolve. Here, we focus on four long-standing claims about brain evolution, and discuss how new work has either contradicted them or shown them to be much more complicated than previously appreciated. Throughout, we emphasize studies of nonhuman primates and hominins, our recent ancestors and close relatives.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 16 March 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:© 2022 This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:08 February 2022
Date deposited:04 March 2022
Date of first online publication:16 March 2022
Date first made open access:16 March 2023

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