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Evolution and the Emergent SelfThe Rise of Complexity and Behavioral Versatility in Nature$
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Raymond Neubauer

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780231150705

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231150705.001.0001

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What Is a Big Brain Good For?

What Is a Big Brain Good For?

(p.70) 4 What Is a Big Brain Good For?
Evolution and the Emergent Self

Raymond L. Neubauer

, Xuan Yue
Columbia University Press

This chapter examines the benefits of a big brain. In humans, the brain constitutes about two percent of body weight but consumes twenty percent of total energy intake. It flies in the face of basic evolutionary theory that any animal would incur such high costs without accompanying benefits. Although lab tests of learning generally have been inconclusive, field studies in recent years have shown significant differences in social complexity, innovation, and behavioral versatility for species with high relative brain size. The rate of evolution itself may be affected by large brain size and the behavioral flexibility it affords. This chapter begins with an overview of the social brain and proceeds by discussing how brain size is related to diet, innovation, social learning, and tool use, as well as invasion success and evolution. It also considers behavioral differences in large-brained animals, with particular emphasis on flexibility and play. Finally, it describes the link between brain size and life history changes.

Keywords:   brain, brain size, evolution, behavioral flexibility, social brain, diet, innovation, tool use, invasion, life history changes

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