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The Evolving Brain

July 13, 2010

From birth to adulthood, our brains develop in a variety of ways. As we grow, we connect neurons, produce fatty myelin, and develop complex brain processes.

Neurobiologist David Van Essen couldn’t help but notice that the development of the human brain mirrors the evolution of the human brain. In a study published July 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Van Essen and his team compared the brain scans of infant and adult humans to those of macaques.  They discovered that the development of the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the brain that is key to memory, thought, and language) evolves in ways that “parallel its evolution since we last shared a common ancestor with macaque monkeys.”

Top row, a comparative map of cortical differences between the average adult macaque and human; middle row, a comparison between the infant and adult human brain; bottom, a comparison of human developmental and evolutionary changes

According to Wired:

In the new study, the areas that change least — between baby and adult, human and macaque — are those related to core senses like vision, which are ostensibly necessary right from birth. If other, less immediately important faculties were also mature, babies’ heads might be so large as to cause difficulties during pregnancy.

This in turn allows undeveloped brain regions to “benefit from the experiences of childhood,” said Van Essen. Extra-large helpings of social and cultural knowledge customize the infant brain, making both babies and the species more adaptable and allowing for complex social institutions to develop.

Pretty cool stuff that stresses the importance of keeping little brains stimulated and the awesomeness of monkeys.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 13, 2010 11:30 am

    Excellent post, and really interesting.

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