Evidence from Primatology Key questions in primate studies include What

Evidence from primatology key questions in primate

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Evidence from Primatology Key questions in primate studies include: What differentiates primates from other mammals? What characteristic links primates together as a family? And perhaps most importantly, what behavioural characteristic of primates is responsible for driving the extraordinary evolution of the hominid brain? In their 1953 paper, ‘Social behaviour and primate evolution,’ Chance and Mead (1953) were among the first to suggest that this characteristic might have been the need to master complex social dynamics. They wrote that “… the ascent of man has been due in part to a competition for social position…” Later, Nicholas Humphrey argued that technology emerged as a consequence of and a solution to the problem of “time given up to unproductive social activity” (Humphrey 1976.) Social cohesion, he suggested, was essential for creating a context in which the learning of skills and knowledge 7
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critical for survival could occur. Forging social relationships is time- consuming and technological innovations (such as tool use) solved the problem of expediting survival-related tasks such as hunting and gathering. In his discussion of the emergence of social behaviour, Richard Byrne of the University of St Andrews, Scotland, traces a gradual increase in the complexity of social functioning as one moves from phylogenetically more distant to nearer primate human relatives (Byrne 1999.) For example, in contrast to prosimians, the anthropoidea (monkeys and apes): use cooperation and alliances extensively; acquire dominance ranks; show long- lasting ‘friendships’; devote substantial time to social grooming; engage in reconciliation behaviours; show knowledge of individual affiliations; and use techniques of social manipulation. It is in apes alone however, that ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) or representational intelligence is apparent. Many authors (e.g. Premack & Woodruff 1978; Byrne 1999) have argued that non-human apes such as chimpanzees and orang-utans are capable of basic ToM skills, and date the origins of this social cognitive capacity to the period 16 to 5 million years ago. Evidence from Palaeontology Contrary to popular belief, enlargement in brain size alone was not solely responsible for the evolution of sophisticated modern human cognition. Regional enlargements of certain areas of the brain as well as the expansion of interconnected neural networks linking critical cortical and subcortical regions were almost certainly more important. Drawing on his analyses of hominid fossil endocasts and skulls, Ralph Holloway (1975) related the evolution of social behaviour to brain reorganization (rather than brain enlargement.) Interconnected brain regions recognised as key to social cognition and behaviour were subject to greater-than-expected reorganisation and expansion during hominid evolution. For example, Holloway showed that endocasts from two 8
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Australopithecine fossils reveal an intermediate position of the lunate sulcus, between that of the human and that of the chimpanzee (Holloway 1983.) This position suggests, he argues, that the parietal association cortex (PAC) was significantly enlarged and reorganised as early as 3 million years ago. The right PAC has
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