(Press-News.org) Contrary to current understanding, the brains of human newborns aren’t significantly less developed compared to other primate species, but appear so because so much brain development happens after birth, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.
The study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, found that humans are born with brains at a development level that’s typical for similar primate species, but the human brains grow so much larger and more complex than other species after birth, it gives the false impression that human newborns are underdeveloped, or “altricial.”
Lead author Dr Aida Gomez-Robles (UCL Anthropology) said: “This new work changes the overall understanding around the evolution of human brain development. Humans seem so much more helpless when they’re young compared to other primates not because their brains are comparatively underdeveloped but because they still have much further to go.”
One way that scientists compare the brain development of different species is by measuring the size of their brains as newborns to their brain size as adults. Humans are born with a relatively smaller percentage of their adult brain size, compared to other primates, making it seem they’re born less developed. However, this new research shows that this measure is misleading as other measurements of human brain development show humans are largely in line with other species of primates such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.
The research challenges a prevailing understanding of evolutionary human brain development. Up to now, because of their helplessness and poor muscle control, it’s long been believed that humans are born with comparatively less developed brains than other primates. This was thought to be the result of an evolutionary compromise so babies’ heads could fit through their mother’s birth canal, which would require them to further develop outside of the womb.
Based on this understanding, scientists suggested that because humans emerged comparatively underdeveloped, their brains are more malleable in the earliest period of life and more easily affected by environmental stimuli as they grow. It was thought that this underdevelopment at birth encouraged greater brain plasticity, ultimately facilitating human intelligence.
Instead, the researchers found that while human brains do take longer than other species to grow to full capacity, it’s not because they come out significantly less developed at birth, but because their brains grow so much more later in life. The researchers added that their findings don’t negate the importance of brain plasticity in human evolution but make it unlikely that this enhanced plasticity resulted from being born less developed than other primates.
To understand the evolutionary development of human brains, the researchers analysed the brain development of 140 different mammal species including modern primates, rodents, carnivores, as well as the fossils of early humans and related ancestral hominins. They compared the length of foetal gestation in modern mammals, the relative size of newborn brains and bodies to their adult size, and the overall brain size of newborns and adults to understand the evolution of human brains.
They found that while there are major variations in brain development at birth between disparate mammal species, primates are relatively consistent with each other. Humans are not born at significantly lower levels of development than modern primates, nor their hominin ancestors. Similarly, human gestation period is not shorter than it would be expected when compared to other primates.
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health in the US.
Notes to Editors
For more information or to speak to the researchers involved, please contact Michael Lucibella, UCL Media Relations. T: +44 (0)75 3941 0389, E: email@example.com
Aida Gómez-Robles, Christos Nicolaou, Jeroen B. Smaers & Chet C. Sherwood, ‘'The evolution of human altriciality and brain development in comparative context’ will be published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday 4 December 2023, 16:00 UK time, 11:00 Eastern Time and is under a strict embargo until this time.
The DOI for this paper will be: 10.1038/s41559-023-02253-z.
Following publication, the paper will be available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-023-02253-z
Dr Aida Gomez-Robles’s academic profile
UCL Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences
About UCL – London’s Global University
UCL is a diverse global community of world-class academics, students, industry links, external partners, and alumni. Our powerful collective of individuals and institutions work together to explore new possibilities.
Since 1826, we have championed independent thought by attracting and nurturing the world's best minds. Our community of more than 50,000 students from 150 countries and over 16,000 staff pursues academic excellence, breaks boundaries and makes a positive impact on real world problems.
The Times and Sunday Times University of the Year 2024, we are consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the world and are one of only a handful of institutions rated as having the strongest academic reputation and the broadest research impact.
We have a progressive and integrated approach to our teaching and research – championing innovation, creativity and cross-disciplinary working. We teach our students how to think, not what to think, and see them as partners, collaborators and contributors.
For almost 200 years, we are proud to have opened higher education to students from a wide range of backgrounds and to change the way we create and share knowledge.
We were the first in England to welcome women to university education and that courageous attitude and disruptive spirit is still alive today. We are UCL.
www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow @uclnews on Twitter | Read news at www.ucl.ac.uk/news/ | Listen to UCL podcasts on SoundCloud | View images on Flickr | Find out what’s on at UCL Minds
Brains of newborns aren't underdeveloped compared to other primates
ELSE PRESS RELEASES FROM THIS DATE:
Mortality and morbidity among individuals with hypertension receiving a diuretic, ace inhibitor, or calcium channel blocker
About The Study: In this prespecified secondary analysis of outcomes of 32,000 participants in a randomized clinical trial and post-trial up to 23 years later among adults with hypertension and coronary heart disease risk factors, cardiovascular disease mortality was similar between all three antihypertensive treatment groups (thiazide-type diuretic, calcium channel blocker, or angiotensin-converting enzyme [ACE] inhibitor). ACE inhibitors increased the risk of stroke outcomes by 11% compared with diuretics, and this effect persisted well beyond the trial period. Authors: Jose-Miguel ...
Types of on-screen content and mental health in kindergarten children
About The Study: The results of this study that included nearly 16,000 kindergarten children indicated that both total screen time and different types of content were associated with mental health problems in children ages 3 to 6. Limiting children’s screen time, prioritizing educational programs, and avoiding non–child-directed programs are recommended. Authors: Fan Jiang, M.D., Ph.D., and Yunting Zhang, Ph.D., of Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China, are the corresponding authors. To access the embargoed study: Visit our For The Media website at this ...
Maternal prenatal depressive symptoms and fetal growth during the critical rapid growth stage
About The Study: Maternal depressive symptoms were associated with slower fetal growth rate in the critical rapid growth stage before delivery in this study including 2,676 mother-offspring dyads. Early screening for depressive disorders in pregnant women appears to be essential for fetal growth and later health. Authors: Zhenmi Liu, Ph.D., and Jiaqiang Liao, Ph.D., of Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, are the corresponding authors. To access the embargoed study: Visit our For The Media website at this link https://media.jamanetwork.com/ (doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.46018) Editor’s Note: Please see ...
About 20% of patients listed as alive in their electronic health records were actually deceased according to California data
About 20 % of patients whose medical records showed them as being alive with a serious illness were in fact deceased according to California data, leading to hundreds of unnecessary interactions such as appointment reminders, prescription refills and other kinds of wasteful outreach that strain resources and healthcare workers’ time. The data gap is due to California law that makes these full death data available only “for purposes of law enforcement or preventing fraud,” according to a UCLA-lead research team. Even a real-time death database maintained by the National Association for Public Health ...
Dietary environmental factors shape the immune defense against Cryptosporidium infection
Francis Crick Institute press release Under strict embargo: 16:00hrs GMT Monday 4 December 2023 Peer reviewed Experimental study Animals Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have discovered that a common dietary supplement could protect against chronic Cryptosporidium infections which are particularly prevalent in children under two and in areas with poorer sanitation. Cryptosporidium is a parasite that infects and damages the small intestine. It is one of the leading causes of diarrhoea-related deaths ...
New study maps ketamine's effects on brain
Ketamine – an anesthetic also known for its illicit use as a recreational drug – has undergone a thorough reputational rehabilitation in recent years as the medical establishment has begun to recognize its wide-ranging therapeutic effects. The drug is increasingly used for a range of medical purposes, including as a painkiller alternative to opioids, and as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression. In a new study published in the journal Cell Reports, Columbia biologists and biomedical engineers mapped ketamine’s effects on the brains of mice, and found that repeated use over extended periods of time leads to widespread structural changes in the brain’s ...
Studies help explain why some prostate cancers become resistant to hormone therapy
Two new studies led by researchers from the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center give insight into how cells use energy to influence the way prostate tumors survive and grow — advancements that can help explain why some prostate cancers become resistant to hormone therapy, the most commonly used treatment for men with advanced stages of the disease. Hormone therapy, also known as antiandrogen therapy, plays a crucial role in temporarily halting the growth of prostate cancer cells. Over time, however, the majority of patients eventually see their cancer return and progress, underscoring the pressing need for continued advancements to enhance clinical ...
Hard to drug: Protein droplets reveal new ways to inhibit transcription factors in an aggressive form of prostate cancer
Many of the most potent human oncoproteins belong to a class of proteins called transcription factors, but designing small molecule drugs that target transcription factors is a major challenge. An international team of researchers from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics (MPIMG), BC Cancer (University of British Columbia) and other institutions has discovered a potential way to target the androgen receptor, the most prominent oncogenic transcription factor in prostate cancer, based on its propensity to form droplets also known as condensates. The results described ...
MD Anderson’s Katy Rezvani, M.D., receives 2023 Honorific Award from the American Society of Hematology
Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has been honored with the E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize from the American Society of Hematology (ASH) for her groundbreaking research to develop and advance innovative cell therapies for cancer using natural killer (NK) cells. “I am fortunate to be able to engage in research that I am passionate about, to mentor incredible young scientists, and to collaborate with a remarkable team of researchers and clinicians. But most importantly, I am blessed to have the opportunity to undertake research that has the potential to ...
Salty immune cells surrounding the brain linked to hypertension-induced dementia
A study supported by the National Institutes of Health suggests that the response of immune system cells inside the protective covering surrounding the brain may contribute to the cognitive decline that can occur in a person with chronic high blood pressure. This finding, published in Nature Neuroscience, may shed light on new ways to counteract the effects of high blood pressure on cognition. The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of NIH. “The role of immune signaling in cognitive decline is critically important to understand,” said Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D., program director, NINDS. “These findings offer insight ...