Document Type

Article

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Volume

111

Issue

20

Publisher

National Academy of Sciences

Publication Date

3-2014

First Page

e2140

Last Page

e2148

DOI

doi: 10.1073/pnas.1323533111

Abstract

Although scientists have identified surprising cognitive flexibility in animals and potentially unique features of human psychology, we know less about the selective forces that favor cognitive evolution, or the proximate biological mechanisms underlying this process. We tested 36 species in two problem-solving tasks measuring self-control and evaluated the leading hypotheses regarding how and why cognition evolves. Across species, differences in absolute (not relative) brain volume best predicted performance on these tasks. Within primates, dietary breadth also predicted cognitive performance, whereas social group size did not. These results suggest that increases in absolute brain size provided the biological foundation for evolutionary increases in self-control, and implicate species differences in feeding ecology as a potential selective pressure favoring these skills.

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