Brain evolution, brain maturation and the human social niche

Title: Brain evolution, brain maturation and the human social niche

Speaker: Prof Barbara L Finlay

Date: 17th Oct. 2017, 1PM

Location: Clore Management Building, Room 101, Birkbeck College, London, WC1E 7HX

Abstract:  The duration of brain development across mammalian species, including primates, directly predicts adult brain mass, when normed from the onset of brain development.  No feature of the order or rate of fundamental developmental processes, including features of initial differentiation, neurogenesis, synapse formation, early reflex onset, or volume change, distinguishes human brain development from other great apes.  Adult brain organization changes progressively, and predictably, as conserved developmental processes play out in larger and larger brains. By contrast, the relative timing of two life history events clearly distinguishes humans from other great apes.  Humans are weaned substantially earlier with respect to the conserved neurodevelopmental schedule, and only humans have menopause, an extended non-reproductive period in healthy later life.  Early weaning gives humans a substantially longer period of neural plasticity in an extended social environment populated with culturally-variable constellations of parents, siblings, grandmothers and others, different from any other primate’s.