Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

The Gregarious Brain and cognitive skills

I find via Mind­Hacks that NYT Mag­a­zine has pub­lished a great arti­cle titled The Gre­gar­i­ous Brain, sub­ti­tled “Williams syn­drome — a genet­ic acci­dent that caus­es cog­ni­tive deficits-”. The writer, David Dobbs, does an spec­tac­u­lar job at explain­ing that syn­drome in the con­text of what cog­ni­tive skills are and how they evolved. Some sam­ple quotes:

  • In the view of two of Bellugi’s fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors, Albert Gal­abur­da, a Har­vard Med­ical School pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy and neu­ro­science, and Allan Reiss, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist at the Stan­ford School of Med­i­cine, Nicki’s learned facil­i­ty at sports talk illus­trates a cen­tral les­son of Williams and, for that mat­ter, mod­ern genet­ics: genes (or their absence) do not hard-wire peo­ple for cer­tain behav­iors. There is no gene for under­stand­ing cal­cu­lus. But genes do shape behav­ior and per­son­al­i­ty, and they do so by cre­at­ing brain struc­tures and func­tions that favor cer­tain abil­i­ties and appetites more than oth­ers.”
  • …This doesn’t mean that spe­cif­ic behav­iors are hard-wired. M.I.T. math majors aren’t born doing cal­cu­lus, and peo­ple with Williams don’t enter life telling sto­ries. As Allan Reiss put it: “It’s not just ‘genes make brain make behav­ior.’ You have envi­ron­ment and expe­ri­ence too. By envi­ron­ment, Reiss means less the atmos­phere of a home or a school than the end­less string of chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties that life presents any per­son start­ing at birth.”
  • (Talk­ing about when our ances­tors start­ed to live in larg­er groups) “But the big­ger groups imposed a new brain load: the mem­bers had to be smart enough to bal­ance their indi­vid­ual needs with those of the pack. This meant coop­er­at­ing and exer­cis­ing some indi­vid­ual restraint. It also required under­stand­ing the behav­ior of oth­er group mem­bers striv­ing not only for safe­ty and food but also access to mates. And it called for com­pre­hend­ing and man­ag­ing one’s place in an ever-shift­ing array of alliances that mem­bers formed in order not to be iso­lat­ed with­in the big­ger group…The big­ger an animal’s typ­i­cal group size (20 or so for macaques, for instance, 50 or so for chimps), the larg­er the per­cent­age of brain devot­ed to neo­cor­tex, the thin but crit­i­cal out­er lay­er that accounts for most of a primate’s cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. In most mam­mals the neo­cor­tex accounts for 30 per­cent to 40 per­cent of brain vol­ume. In the high­ly social pri­mates it occu­pies about 50 per­cent to 65 per­cent. In humans, it’s 80 percent.“ 
  • Gen­er­at­ing and detect­ing decep­tion and veiled mean­ing requires not just the recog­ni­tion that peo­ple can be bad but a cer­tain lev­el of cog­ni­tive pow­er that peo­ple with Williams typ­i­cal­ly lack. In par­tic­u­lar it requires what psy­chol­o­gists call “the­o­ry of mind,” which is a clear con­cept of what anoth­er per­son is think­ing and the recog­ni­tion that the oth­er per­son a) may see the world dif­fer­ent­ly than you do and b) may actu­al­ly be think­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent from what he’s saying.“  

Enjoy the full article The Gre­gar­i­ous Brain.

You can learn more about cog­ni­tive skills and our ances­tors at our recent post, titled Apes, Speedy Learn­ers, and new Brain Fit­ness Chan­nel, that shows the amaz­ing abstract think­ing skills of orang­utans. Anoth­er relat­ed post on nature vs. nur­ture: Richard Dawkins and Alfred Nobel: beyond nature and nur­ture.

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

Follow us and Engage via…

twitter_logo_header
RSS Feed

Search for anything brain-related in our article archives