The Cognitive-Buffer Hypothesis for the Evolution of Large Brains

Edited by Daniel Sol

in Cognitive Ecology II

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2009 | ISBN: 9780226169354
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226169378 | DOI:
The Cognitive-Buffer Hypothesis for the Evolution of Large Brains

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  • Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology


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This chapter relies on recent data to address the old question of why some animals have large brains relative to body size even though such brains incur substantial costs in terms of delayed maturation and high maintenance. It reviews recent studies providing support for the cognitive-buffer hypothesis, which states that a relatively large brain is associated with an enhanced ability to handle novel situations and hence with increased probability of survival in novel or altered environments. The cognitive-buffer hypothesis is the most general explanation for the benefits of the evolution and development of large brains, proposing that a major advantage of a large brain is to produce behavioral responses that protect the animal from the vagaries of the environment. The buffer function of the brain has the potential to generate “autocatalytic” and positive-feedback processes that, although still not well understood, could accelerate brain evolution.

Keywords: cognitive-buffer hypothesis; large brain; brain evolution; positive-feedback; body size; brain

Chapter.  9243 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology

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