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Human brain asymmetry is not unique


A new analysis suggests that an asymmetry pattern shared with great apes was adapted for lateralized, uniquely human cognitive abilities

The left and right side of the brain are involved in different tasks. This functional lateralization and associated brain asymmetry are well documented in humans, but little is known about brain asymmetry in our closest living relatives, the great apes. Using endocasts (imprints of the brain on cranial bones), Philipp Mitteroecker of the University of Vienna together with scientists of Max-Planck-Institute in Leipzig now challenge the long-held notion that the human pattern of brain asymmetry is unique. They found the same asymmetry pattern in chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. However, humans had the largest variability of this pattern. This suggests that lateralized, uniquely human cognitive abilities, such as language, evolved by adapting a presumably ancestral asymmetry pattern. [read more]


Simon Neubauer, Philipp Gunz, Nadia A. Scott, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Philipp Mitteroecker: Evolution of brain lateralization: a shared hominid pattern of endocranial asymmetry is much more variable in humans than in great apes. Science Advances 6, eaax9935 (2020). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax9935

Humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans (from left to right) have differently shaped endocasts and brains. But they share an asymmetry pattern, as visualized in the bottom row. (© Simon Neubauer [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0])