What can we learn about the evolution of the human brain by studying our nearest relatives? A great deal, says Chet Sherwood, who is applying new tools such as MRIs and genome analysis to questions about human brain evolution. Comparative studies of the human brain have emphasized its remarkable size, but Sherwood believes more interesting insights lie elsewhere. He is investigating how the organization and composition of great ape brains varies with ecological and behavioral factors, even when brain size stays the same. Recently discovered hominin fossils likewise show variations in brain organization but not brain size. A growing collection of primate brains is allowing Sherwood and others to understand the ways that environment and experience have shaped our exquisite brains.
Social media hashtag: #OurApeBrains
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- Chet SherwoodProfessor and chair, Department of Anthropology, and co-director of the Mind-Brain Institute, George Washington University