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Neuroplasticity explains why humans adapt faster than (genetically-controlled) chimpanzees

chimpanzee_human_brainsNature and nur­ture: Human brains evolved to be more respon­sive to envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences (

Chim­panzees are our clos­est liv­ing rel­a­tives, but what is it about the human brain that makes us so dif­fer­ent? Researchers at the George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty may have unearthed anoth­er piece of the puz­zle. In a study pub­lished on Nov. 16, sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that human brains exhib­it more plas­tic­i­ty, propen­si­ty to be mod­eled by the envi­ron­ment, than chim­panzee brains and that this may have account­ed for part of human evo­lu­tion…

We found that the anato­my of the chim­panzee brain is more strong­ly con­trolled by genes than that of human brains, sug­gest­ing that the human brain is exten­sive­ly shaped by its envi­ron­ment no mat­ter its genet­ics,” said Aida Gómez-Rob­les, post­doc­tor­al sci­en­tist at the GW Cen­ter for the Advanced Study of Human Pale­o­bi­ol­o­gy and lead author on the paper. “So while genet­ics deter­mined human and chim­panzee brain size, it isn’t as much of a fac­tor for human cere­bral orga­ni­za­tion as it is for chim­panzees.”

Study: Relaxed genet­ic con­trol of cor­ti­cal orga­ni­za­tion in human brains com­pared with chim­panzees (PNAS)

  • From the abstract: Despite decades of research, we still have a very incom­plete under­stand­ing of what is spe­cial about the human brain com­pared with the brains of our clos­est fos­sil and liv­ing rel­a­tives. Pars­ing the genet­ic ver­sus envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors that gov­ern the struc­ture of the cere­bral cor­tex in humans and chim­panzees may shed light on the evo­lu­tion of behav­ioral flex­i­bil­i­ty in the human lin­eage. We show that the mor­phol­o­gy of the human cere­bral cor­tex is sub­stan­tial­ly less genet­i­cal­ly her­i­ta­ble than in chim­panzees and there­fore is more respon­sive to mold­ing by envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences. This anatom­i­cal prop­er­ty of increased plas­tic­i­ty, which is like­ly relat­ed to the human pat­tern of devel­op­ment, may under­lie our species’ capac­i­ty for cul­tur­al evo­lu­tion.

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning

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