Animals

Published on February 23rd, 2013 | by James Ayre

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Unique Brain Structures Found In Humans, Different And Unique Structures Found In Other Primates

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February 23rd, 2013 by

New research has found that humans possess at least two unique networks in their cerebral cortex that are not seen in rhesus monkeys. The rhesus monkeys, though, do have one network that seems to be unique to them that humans do not have. The researchers theorize that these networks were probably ‘added’ sometime in the last few million years. The discoveries were made by analyzing the functional brain scans of humans and of rhesus monkeys, and comparing the two during different activities.

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According to currently accepted theory, the ancestors of modern humans “evolutionarily split from those of rhesus monkeys about 25 million years ago. Since then, brain areas have been added, have disappeared or have changed in function. This raises the question, ‘Has evolution given humans unique brain structures?’.” The idea has been popular amongst many scientists, but until now there there hasn’t been any evidence. (Author’s note: Focusing on the things that make humans ‘unique’ amongst other animals seems to be a very common bias amongst those in the scientific community. Previously things such as complex “language”, culture, use of tools, mathematics, empathy, etc, have been considered to be unique to humans. But now it’s known that these are present in many animals. In my opinion, this current research should be read with that in mind.)

Professor Vanduffel explains: “We did functional brain scans in humans and rhesus monkeys at rest and while watching a movie to compare both the place and the function of cortical brain networks. Even at rest, the brain is very active. Different brain areas that are active simultaneously during rest form so-called ‘resting state’ networks. For the most part, these resting state networks in humans and monkeys are surprisingly similar, but we found two networks unique to humans and one unique network in the monkey.”


“When watching a movie, the cortex processes an enormous amount of visual and auditory information. The human-specific resting state networks react to this stimulation in a totally different way than any part of the monkey brain. This means that they also have a different function than any of the resting state networks found in the monkey. In other words, brain structures that are unique in humans are anatomically absent in the monkey and there no other brain structures in the monkey that have an analogous function. Our unique brain areas are primarily located high at the back and at the front of the cortex and are probably related to specific human cognitive abilities, such as human-specific intelligence.”

The researchers utilized fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans to observe activity in the brain. “fMRI scans map functional activity in the brain by detecting changes in blood flow. The oxygen content and the amount of blood in a given brain area vary according to a particular task, thus allowing activity to be tracked.”

It’s not surprising that animals in very different environmental niches and subject to very different conditions would have brains that function differently. And it’s also worth keeping in mind, that within the controlled conditions of the lab, the behavior and brain activity of most animals, especially intelligent ones (and ones that have been raised in captivity at that), is greatly modified. Brains are relatively plastic things, regions and networks can completely change in function in response to injury, learning, and other environmental conditions.

Source: KU Leuven

Image Credits: Brain via Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • http://www.facebook.com/box1813 Alex Davis

    Thousands upon thousands of well documented studies have all supported the process of evolution. You have only a collection of bronze age fairy tails to argue against it.

  • LanceSmith

    It’s unfortunate when authors seem to think they need to inject their own ideology instead of science into a conversation. First off, there is nothing wrong with studying differences (or similarities) between humans and other animals. Comparative anatomy is a valid effort use to help us understand the world. Second, you lost me in your last paragraph. You seem to be implying that the cause of these differences between monkey and human brains is due to environmental factors (vs. genetics, speciation, evolution, etc). Is evidence for this causal relationship provided in the original paper or is this simply your own flight of fancy at work?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1032381965 Vera Narishkin

    No mention of research to find out if that same structure exists in the brains of our closest ape cousins (we are part of the great apes) the chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were discovered that they too possess that structure.

  • http://twitter.com/tweetnew2view Cliff

    gee you mean unique brains might in fact be evidence of a highly intelligent ‘Creator’ having employed similar but wholly different characteristics in his created creatures!? (duh!)

    • http://www.facebook.com/box1813 Alex Davis

      Write a paper, peer review it, publish it in a reputable journal, then get your Nobel Prize for proving the existence of a deity. Otherwise, please move along, the adults are working on finding the truth here.

    • LanceSmith

      It’s probably not evidence one way or the other of whether or not a “Creator” did anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/billgkohl William Kohl

    Attempts to distinguish human brains from other intelligent species is not frivolous and should lead to extremely important knowledge. There is no doubt that humans are (at least presently) the most successful species on earth. Why this may be true is not a trivial question and is almost certainly due to our thinking capacity.

    • Omeca Kelly

      …but it hasn’t. lol

  • CuriousRedMonkey

    The type of content that was used in the videos seems a rather important point as to how the different parts of the brain would process the information. That one point could skew the results and was not presented (or commented upon) in the article. Removing all human “context” from the videos would be a first step.

    • http://www.facebook.com/tcorliss Tim Corliss

      Agreed, a rather poor study.

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