Why are hu­man brains so big?

Focus-Science and Technology - - Q&A - LIZZIE AL­TON, GLAS­GOW

One pos­si­bil­ity is that large brains are sex­ier. The per­son that can make mu­sic and art, or tell sto­ries, may be more at­trac­tive to po­ten­tial mates. But in the 1990s, an­thro­pol­o­gist Robin Dun­bar sug­gested that hu­mans might also need large brains to keep track of their com­pli­cated so­cial lives. Hu­man so­cial cir­cles nor­mally com­prise around 150 peo­ple, com­pared with 50 for chim­panzees. Larger so­cial groups have ex­po­nen­tially more in­ter­re­la­tion­ships and our sur­vival and suc­cess de­pends on be­ing able to re­act to and pre­dict the be­hav­iour of our peers. Re­lated to this is the idea of so­cial dom­i­nance. Once our an­ces­tors had be­gun to mas­ter their en­vi­ron­ment, their big­gest threats were other hu­mans. Lead­er­ship tus­sles within and be­tween tribes favoured smarter hu­mans much more than those that were just stronger.

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