Left=Language in monkey brains, too

July 19th, 2010 in Uncategorized 1 comment

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I would hate to marginalize the Creationists that may frequent this blog, but, it is becoming difficult to ignore all of the

Ready for a chat, perhaps?

Ready for a chat, perhaps?

evidence for Evolution piling up higher and higher.  This conglomerate of information is contributed to by almost all fields of study- from Archeology to Biology, and in a recent surge in the rapidly growing field, Neuroscience.  Unfortunately for us, submitting to the idea of Evolution forces us to think of ourselves and our fellow humans as a little less awesome or unique- we have always reveled in our species immense capacity for complex language processing, as well as other things of course.  But it didn’t just pop up out of nowhere a couple million years in.

To expand upon the research being done by neuroscience in exploring the evolution of the brain, this article focuses on Wernicke’s area (known for its dedication to processing auditory language information) in chimpanzees.  This study used design-based stereologic methods to estimate regional volumes, total neuron number and neuron density.  When compared to what we know about the human brain, the results are intriguing.

What did they find?  A leftward asymmetry of this language area in the monkey brains.  What does this mean to us?  It suggests that the left lateralization of the language area in the brain (left = language, left = language, first thing to memorize in Psych 101) originated before our cutting-edge human species, prior to the appearance of our modern human language.

This investigation may seem generally boring- these Chimpanzees aren’t Darwin’s finches or anything- but it certainly is significant in showing Neurosciences’ huge potential for contribution to the case of Evolution.  They showed that a language specialization that is key to our unique language capabilities actually evolved prior to the emergence of modern humans, serving as a pre-adaptation to modern human language and speech.  Studies like these are closing the gap between ancestral species, and unfortunately, making us all feel a little less special about our leap to civilized society.  Way to go Evolution.

Original Article:    http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/277/1691/2165.full?sid=912995c2-144b-45bb-b92c-d7c0196d1fef#ref-5

Similar articles investigating monkey brains and language adaptions:  http://current.com/1ri8u4c

Ps.- If anyone studying at BU is really really into Evolution, I highly recommend the Ecuador Study Abroad Program… A trip to the Galapagos Islands (on a private yacht, no less) and to the Charles Darwin Research Station is a chance of a lifetime.

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