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When brains expand: mind and the evolution of cortex


Kirkcaldie, MTK and Kitchener, PD, When brains expand: mind and the evolution of cortex, Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 19, (3) pp. 139-148. ISSN 0924-2708 (2007) [Refereed Article]

DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1601-5215.2007.00204.x


Objective: To critically examine the relationship between evolutionary and developmental influences on human neocortex and the properties of the conscious mind it creates.

Methods: Using PubMed searches and the bibliographies of several monographs, we selected 50 key works, which offer empirical support for a novel understanding of the organization of the neocortex.

Results: The cognitive gulf between humans and our closest primate relatives has usually been taken as evidence that our brains evolved crucial new mechanisms somehow conferring advanced capacities, particularly in association areas of the neocortex. In this overview of neocortical development and comparative brain morphometry, we propose an alternative view: that an increase in neocortical size, alone, could account for novel and powerful cognitive capabilities. Other than humans' very large brain in relation to the body weight, the morphometric relations between neocortex and all other brain regions show remarkably consistent exponential ratios across the range of primate species, including humans. For an increase in neocortical size to produce new abilities, the developmental mechanisms of neocortex would need to be able to generate an interarchy of functionally diverse cortical domains in the absence of explicit specification, and in this respect, the mammalian neocortex is unique: its relationship to the rest of the nervous system is unusually plastic, allowing great changes in cortical organization to occur in relatively short periods of evolution. The fact that even advanced abilities like self-recognition have arisen in species from different mammalian orders suggests that expansion of the neocortex quite naturally generates new levels of cognitive sophistication. Our cognitive and behavioural sophistication may, therefore, be attributable to these intrinsic mechanisms' ability to generate complex interarchies when the neocortex reaches a sufficient size.

Conclusion: Our analysis offers a parsimonious explanation for key properties of the human mind based on evolutionary influences and developmental processes. This view is perhaps surprising in its simplicity, but offers a fresh perspective on the evolutionary basis of mental complexity.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Biomedical and Clinical Sciences
Research Group:Neurosciences
Research Field:Neurosciences not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Clinical health
Objective Field:Clinical health not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Kirkcaldie, MTK (Dr Matthew Kirkcaldie)
ID Code:70945
Year Published:2007
Web of Science® Times Cited:10
Deposited By:Research Division
Deposited On:2011-07-05
Last Modified:2011-07-05

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