Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
National Academy of Sciences
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.
Young, Julie, "The Evolution of Self-Control" (2014). Wildland Resources Faculty Publications. Paper 1622.