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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Prof Robert A. Barton

Image: Embodied cognitive evolution and the cerebellumBarton, Robert A. (2012). Embodied cognitive evolution and the cerebellum. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 367(1599): 2097-2107.

Author(s) from Durham


Much attention has focused on the dramatic expansion of the forebrain, particularly the neocortex, as the neural substrate of cognitive evolution. However, though relatively small, the cerebellum contains about four times more neurons than the neocortex. I show that commonly used comparative measures such as neocortex ratio underestimate the contribution of the cerebellum to brain evolution. Once differences in the scaling of connectivity in neocortex and cerebellum are accounted for, a marked and general pattern of correlated evolution of the two structures is apparent. One deviation from this general pattern is a relative expansion of the cerebellum in apes and other extractive foragers. The confluence of these comparative patterns, studies of ape foraging skills and social learning, and recent evidence on the cognitive neuroscience of the cerebellum, suggest an important role for the cerebellum in the evolution of the capacity for planning, execution and understanding of complex behavioural sequences—including tool use and language. There is no clear separation between sensory–motor and cognitive specializations underpinning such skills, undermining the notion of executive control as a distinct process. Instead, I argue that cognitive evolution is most effectively understood as the elaboration of specialized systems for embodied adaptive control.