Brains, lifestyles and cognition: are there general trends?

Brain Behav Evol. 2008;72(2):135-44. doi: 10.1159/000151473. Epub 2008 Oct 7.


Comparative and experimental approaches to cognition in different animal taxa suggest some degree of convergent evolution. Similar cognitive trends associated with similar lifestyles (sociality, generalism, new habitats) are seen in taxa that are phylogenetically distant and possess remarkably different brains. Many cognitive measures show positive intercorrelations at the inter-individual and inter-taxon level, suggesting some degree of general intelligence. Ecological principles like the unpredictability of resources in space and time may drive different types of cognition (e.g., social and non-social) in the same direction. Taxa that rank high on comparative counts of cognition in the field are usually the ones that succeed well in experimental tests, with the exception of avian imitation. From apes to birds, fish and beetles, a few common principles appear to have influenced the evolution of brains and cognition in widely divergent taxa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Ecology
  • Genetic Variation
  • Physiology, Comparative
  • Selection, Genetic