Evolution of the social brain as a distributed neural system

Robert A. Barton

in Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780198568308
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Evolution of the social brain as a distributed neural system

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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The many different diverse methods and models of neuroscience are aimed at answering basic questions such as: what are brains for? How are they organised? and How does this organisation support adaptive behaviour? A key biological fact to bear in mind in constructing answers to those questions is that brains have evolved. The key point that this article emphasises, however, is that understanding species differences in cognitive mechanisms requires a close relationship between evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience. The distinctive cognitive attributes of primates, including humans, are widely assumed to relate in some way to their large brains. The key point is this: the intellect of an animal cannot be entirely isolated from the rest of its biology. However, to some extent, all experiments carried out in the laboratory are attempts to do precisely that, in that the point of experiments is to isolate a phenomenon of interest by controlling confounding variables.

Keywords: methods; models; neuroscience; brains; behaviour; species; biology; primates; humans; animal

Article.  10184 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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