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Rapid Evolution of the Cerebellum in Humans and Other Great Apes

Barton, R.A.; Venditti, C.

Rapid Evolution of the Cerebellum in Humans and Other Great Apes Thumbnail


C. Venditti


Humans’ unique cognitive abilities are usually attributed to a greatly expanded neocortex, which has been described as ‘‘the crowning achievement of evolution and the biological substrate of human mental prowess’’ [1]. The human cerebellum, however, contains four times more neurons than the neocortex [2] and is attracting increasing attention for its wide range of cognitive functions. Using a method for detecting evolutionary rate changes along the branches of phylogenetic trees, we show that the cerebellum underwent rapid size increase throughout the evolution of apes, including humans, expanding significantly faster than predicted by the change in neocortex size. As a result, humans and other apes deviated significantly fromthe general evolutionary trend for neocortex and cerebellum to change in tandem, having significantly larger cerebella relative to neocortex size than other anthropoid primates. These results suggest that cerebellar specialization was a far more important component of human brain evolution than hitherto recognized and that technical intelligence was likely to have been at least as important as social intelligence in human cognitive evolution. Given the role of the cerebellum in sensory-motor control and in learning complex action sequences, cerebellar specialization is likely to have underpinned the evolution of humans’ advanced technological capacities, which in turn may have been a preadaptation for language.


Barton, R., & Venditti, C. (2014). Rapid Evolution of the Cerebellum in Humans and Other Great Apes. Current Biology, 24(20), 2440-2444.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 22, 2014
Online Publication Date Oct 2, 2014
Publication Date Oct 20, 2014
Deposit Date Oct 13, 2014
Publicly Available Date Nov 28, 2014
Journal Current Biology
Print ISSN 0960-9822
Publisher Cell Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 20
Pages 2440-2444


Accepted Journal Article (399 Kb)

Copyright Statement
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Current Biology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Current Biology, 44, 20, 20 October 2014, 10.1016/j.cub.2014.08.056.

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