The Human Cognitive and Brain Specializations Group
A collaborative project supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation under a Collaborative Activities Award, "Interrogating the Genome to Uncover Human Specializations of the Brain and Cognition."
To most people, it seems uncontroversial that human thinking abilities, and the brain that supports them, are unusual among mammals. Yet, scientists have provided remarkably little reliable or detailed information about what features of brain organization and cognition humans share with other animals, and what features are uniquely human.
In the neurosciences, the lack of appropriate noninvasive techniques suitable for direct studies of human brain organization has led to a concentration of effort on a few model animal species. The model-animal paradigm, with its assumption that mammalian brains are fundamentally similar in organization, has inhibited the study of human brain specializations, even as new techniques are making it possible to study the human brain in unprecedented detail.
In psychology, the advance of our understanding of human-specific characteristics has been hindered by adherence to the "doctrine of continuity" advanced by Darwin: Darwin insisted that there are no qualitative differences in the biology of closely related species, and therefore that every characteristic of humans must be present, if only in rudimentary form, in our close relatives. Although evolutionary biologists long ago abandoned this particular, narrow understanding of continuity (and Darwin himself did not follow it consistently, acknowledging there is no homologue of language in our ape relatives), continuity continues to exert a strong influence on evolutionary psychology.
The broad goal of this collaborative is to make intellectual space within the natural sciences for that part of human nature that is distinctively human. We pursue this through comparative studies of humans, chimpanzees (the animals most closely related to humans), and other, more distantly related, nonhuman primates. Within this basic comparative framework, we pursue the study of human specializations using genomic and molecular biological techniques, neuroimaging, and behavioral paradigms. None of these techniques involves invasive experimental techniques: that is, we use the same techniques in nonhuman primates that we use with humans.
Any scientific understanding of human specializations requires comparative studies of humans and the animals most closely related to human - chimpanzees, that is. The logic is simple: features that are shared by the human lineage and the branch of the evolutionary tree closest to ours are likely to have been present in the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, and is therefore not a human specialization. Given the critical role of chimpanzee studies for understanding human specializations (as well as for understanding what humans have in common with our closest relatives), we note with alarm the impending demise of chimpanzee colonies in the US (owing to withdrawal of support for chimpanzee breeding by NIH). We encourage everyone who thinks that the scientific study of human nature ought to be a research priority to work to support the maintenance - and, indeed, the improvement - of chimpanzee research facilities in the US.
Scott Frey, University of Oregon
Dan Geschwind, UCLA School of Medicine
Daniel Povinelli, Cognitive Evolution Group, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Todd Preuss, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University
Publications supported by this award:
M, Lachuer J,
Zapala MA, Redmond JC, Kudo L,
Geschwind DH, Lockhart DH, Preuss, TM, & Barlow C. 2003. Elevated
expression levels distinguish human from non-human primate brains. Proc
Acad Sci U S A
100: 1330-35. Download
Marques-Bonet T, Caceres M, Bertranpetit J, Preuss TM, Thomas JW, Navarro A. 2004. Chromosomal rearrangements and the genomic distribution of gene-expression diveregence in humans and chimpanzees. Trends in Genetics, 20(11), 524-529. Download pdf.
Preuss TM, Caceres M, Oldham MC, Geschwind DH. 2004. Human brain evolution: Insights from microarrays. Nature Rev. Genetics, 5(11), 850-60. Download pdf.
Preuss TM. 2004. Specializations of the human visual system: The monkey model meets human reality. In: Kaas JH, Collins CE, editors, The Primate Visual System. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, pp. 231-259. Request reprint
Preuss TM. 2004. What is it like to be a human? In: Gazzaniga MS, editor, The Cognitive Neurosciences, Third Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 5-22. Request reprint
Cola MG, Seltzer B, Preuss TM, Cusick CG. 2005. Neurochemical organization of chimpanzee inferior pulvinar complex. J Comp Neurol 484(3):299-312. Download pdf.
Frey SH, Funnell MG, Gerry VE, Gazzaniga MS. 2005. A dissociation between tool use skills and hand dominance: Insights from left and right-handed callosotomy patients. J Cogn Neurosci 17; 262-272. Download pdf.
Frey SH., Newman-Norlund RN, Grafton ST. 2005. A distributed network in the left cerebral hemisphere for planning everyday tool use skills. Cerebral Cortex 15: 681-695. Download pdf.
Oldham M, Geschwind D. 2005. Evolutionary genetics: the human brain -- adaptation at many levels. Eur J Hum Genet 13(5):520-522.
Povinelli DJ, Prince CG, Preuss TM. 2005. Parent-offspring conflict and the development of social understanding. In: Carruthers P, Laurence S, Stich S, editors. The Innate Mind: Structure and Content. Oxford University Press, pp. 239-253.
Frey SH, Gerry VE. 2006. Modulation of neural activity during observational learning of actions and their sequential orders. J Neurosci 26: 13194-13201. Download pdf.
Oldham M, Horvath S, Geschwind D. 2006. Conservation and evolution of gene coexpression networks in human and chimpanzee brains. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
Oldham M, Geschwind D. 2006. Deconstructing language by comparative gene expression: from neurobiology to microarray. Genes Brain Behav 5 Suppl 1:54-63.
Oldham M, Geschwind D. 2006. Comparative genomics: grasping human transcriptome evolution: what does it all mean? Heredity 96(5):339-340. 103(47):17973-17978.
M, Suwyn C,
Maddox M, Thomas JW, Preuss TM.
2006. Increased cortical expression of two synaptogenic thrombospondins
human brain evolution. Cereb Cortex. [Epub ahead of
Preuss TM. 2006. Who's afraid of Homo sapiens? J Biomed Discov Collab 1:17. (available online)
Preuss TM. 2007. Evolutionary specializations of primate brain systems. In: Ravoso MJ, Dagosto, M, editors. Primate Origins and Adaptations. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Press, pp. 625-675. Request reprint
Subaiaul F, Barth J, Okamoto-Barth S, Povinelli DJ. 2007. Human cognitive specializations. In: Kaas JH, Preuss TM, editors. Evolution of Nervous Systems. Vol. 4: Primates. Elsevier, pp. 509-528. Request reprint
Preuss TM. 2007. Primate brain evolution in phylogenetic context. In: Kaas JH, Preuss TM, editors. Evolution of Nervous Systems. Vol. 4: Primates. Elsevier, pp. 1-34. Request reprint
Frey SH. 2007. What puts the how in where: Semantic and sensori-motor bases of everyday tool use. Cortex 43: 368-375. Download pdf.
Frey, S.H. 2007. Neurological specialization for manual gesture and tool use in humans. In: Kaas JH, Preuss TM, editors. Evolution of Nervous Systems. Vol. 4: Primates. Elsevier, pp. 395-406. Download pdf.
Kaas JH, Preuss TM 2008. Human brain evolution. In: Squire LR, Berg D, Bloom FE, du Lac S, Ghosh A, Spizer NC, editors. Fundamental Neuroscience, Third Edition, pp 1019-1037. Amsterdam: Academic Press. Request reprint
Rilling, J. K., Glasser, M. F., Preuss, T. M., Ma, X., Zhao, T., Hu, X., and Behrens, T. E. 2008. The evolution of the arcuate fasciculus revealed with comparative DTI. Nature Neuroscience 11:426-428.
Rosen RF, Farberg AS, Gearing M, Dooyema J, Long PM, Anderson DC, Coppola G, Geschwind DH, Pare J, Duong TQ, Hopkins W, Preuss TM, Walker LC 2008. Tauopathy with paired helical filaments in an aged chimpanzee. Journal of Comparative Neurology 508: 259-270.
Vonk J, Brosnan SF, Silk JB, Henrich J, Richardson AS, Lambeth SP, Schapiro SJ, Povinelli DJ (2008) Chimpanzees do not take advantage of very low cost opportunities to deliver food to unrelated group members. Animal Behaviour 75:1757-1770.
Subiaul, F., Vonk, J., Barth, J., &. Okamoto-Barth, S. (in press). Do chimpanzees learn reputation by observation? Evidence from direct and indirect experience with generous and selfish strangers. Animal Cognition.
Webpage maintained by Dr. Todd M. Preuss.
Document last revised 01-September-2007.
© Copyright 2007.