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Monkey Skull Indicates Brain Evolved In Spurts

First Posted: Feb 09, 2016 11:58 AM EST

The skull of a new species of monkey has indicated that the brain evolved in spurts. In a recent study, a team of international researchers examined the skull of a new-world monkey species, which has suggested that the species underwent a number of changes in individual regions of the brain during evolutionary periods. These changes may have led to advanced cognitive developments among the species and it can even be applied to humans as well.

Scientists have long believed that humans' superior intelligence was due to their large brain size. Humans' large brain size compared to the rest of their body was quite distinctive. However, studies have also shown that some animals have brain and body sizes that are greater than that of humans. Thus, the researchers believe that the advanced cognitive abilities are mostly like a result of changes to the size of certain parts of the brain. These changes were most likely responsible for the superior intelligence among monkey species and humans.

The researchers analyzed the skulls of 179 adult platyrrhines, which included 49 species with both males and females belonging to the new world monkey. Data from the skulls were placed into a model which enabled the researchers to determine the evolutionary changes among the species.

The team found that the brains of the monkeys experienced two distinct periods of evolutionary change. The first change came about when monkeys became more active on the ground, which enabled them to gather new varieties of food. The researchers believe that this led to a large neocortex, which caused the brain to move towards its axis, therefore pushing the brain stem further down. The team believed that the second change came about as monkeys became more social, which may have led to the increase of the prefrontal area.  

The models indicate that the brain gradually changed to meet changing circumstance. The researchers claimed this may have led to the shapes that monkeys have. The team strongly believes that these changes also apply among humans and may be responsible for or advanced intelligence as we evolved.

The findings of this study were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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