Understanding the human brain: insights from comparative biology

Alex R. DeCasien, Robert A. Barton, James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    Human brains are exceptionally large, support distinctive cognitive processes, and evolved by natural selection to mediate adaptive behavior. Comparative biology situates the human brain within an evolutionary context to illuminate how it has been shaped by selection and how its structure relates to evolutionary function, while identifying the developmental and molecular changes that were involved. Recent applications of powerful phylogenetic methods have uncovered new findings, some of which overturn conventional wisdom about how and why brains evolve. Here, we focus on four long-standing claims about brain evolution and discuss how new work has either contradicted these claims or shown the relevant phenomena to be more complicated than previously appreciated. Throughout, we emphasize studies of non-human primates and hominins, our close relatives and recent ancestors.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)432-445
    Number of pages14
    JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - May 2022


    • evolution
    • genomics
    • neuroanatomy
    • neurodevelopment
    • selection
    • transcriptomics

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Cognitive Neuroscience


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