Experts in action: why we need an embodied social brain hypothesis

Author: Louise Barrett1, S Peter Henzi1, Robert A Barton2
1 Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Canada.
2 Department of Anthropology, University of Durham, Durham, UK.
Conference/Journal: Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci
Date published: 2022 Feb 14
Other: Volume ID: 377 , Issue ID: 1844 , Pages: 20200533 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1098/rstb.2020.0533. , Word Count: 171

The anthropoid primates are known for their intense sociality and large brain size. The idea that these might be causally related has given rise to a large body of work testing the 'social brain hypothesis'. Here, the emphasis has been placed on the political demands of social life, and the cognitive skills that would enable animals to track the machinations of other minds in metarepresentational ways. It seems to us that this position risks losing touch with the fact that brains primarily evolved to enable the control of action, which in turn leads us to downplay or neglect the importance of the physical body in a material world full of bodies and other objects. As an alternative, we offer a view of primate brain and social evolution that is grounded in the body and action, rather than minds and metarepresentation. This article is part of the theme issue 'Systems neuroscience through the lens of evolutionary theory'.

Keywords: brain evolution; cerebellum; embodied cognition; peripersonal space; primates; social brain hypothesis.

PMID: 34957849 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2020.0533