Why do some animals have large brains? It’s a subject of considerable debate and also the central subject of my research. Humans have the largest brains, relative to body size, of any animal we know of. Some other animals with conspicuously big brains include dolphins, apes, monkeys, crows, octopuses, parrots and elephants. This presents a problem. Brain tissue is incredibly expensive to grow and maintain in metabolic terms and natural selection should act to maximise the efficiency of energy use. Therefore, large brains must confer some sort of selective advantage.
By far the most commonly discussed hypothesis for why some animals have large brains is known as the social intelligence hypothesis (or Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis). This idea proposes that the cognitive complexities of living in social groups, such as tracking social relationships and knowing who to cooperate with and who to be submissive to, require larger brains.
When we think…
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