Human brain evolution: How the increase of brain plasticity made us a cultural species

Aida Gómez-Robles, Chet C. Sherwood


Why are humans so different from other primate species? What makes us so capable of creating language, art and music? Specializations in human brain anatomy, which are responsible for our unique behavioral and cognitive traits, evolved over a very short period of evolutionary time (between six and eight million years). Recent evidence suggests that, alongside an increase in brain size and reorganization, neural plasticity may also play a major role in explaining the evolutionary history of our species. Plasticity is the propensity of the brain to be molded by external influences, including the ecological, social and cultural context. The impact of these environmental influences in shaping human behavior has been long recognized, but it has been only recently that scientists have started discovering the more pronounced plasticity of human brains compared to our close relatives.

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