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Progressive changes in brain size and musculo-skeletal traits in seven hominoid populations

Abstract

Neurological complexity has increased over evolutionary time for invertebrates and vertebrates alike, with the hominid brain tripling in size over the last 3 million years. Since magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies among humans indicate a significant correlation (meanr>0.40) between individual differences in brain size and general cognitive ability, it is reasonable to hypothesize that increasing brain size confers greater intelligence. However, larger brains have associated costs, taking longer to build and requiring more energy to run. Sufficient advantages must have accrued for them to override these trade-offs. The present paper documents that in hominoids, as brain size increased from 380 to 1364 cm3 over seven hominoid groups (chimpanzees to australopithecines toHomo habilis toHomo erectus to differences amongHomo sapiens), it was accompanied by changes in 74 musculo-skeletal traits (rs=0.90). These occurred on both cranial traits (temporalis fossae, post-orbital constrictions, mandibles, dentition, nuchal muscle attachments) and on post-cranial traits (pelvic widths, femoral heads, tibial plateaus). It is concluded that in the evolutionary competition to find and fill new niches, there was “room at the top” for greater behavioral complexity and larger brain size, leading to cascading effects on other traits.

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Rushton, J.P., Rushton, E.W. Progressive changes in brain size and musculo-skeletal traits in seven hominoid populations. Hum. Evol. 19, 173–196 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02438913

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02438913

Keywords

  • Brain size
  • intelligence
  • evolution
  • life-history
  • trade-offs