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The Human Prefrontal Cortex and the Evolution of the Social Brain


The prefrontal cortex is implicated in the majority of higher order processes of the primate brain. This region is especially important to the study of human evolution, because it is precisely the complex cognitive and socio- emotional processes of the prefrontal cortex that are thought to characterize uniquely human behavior. Here I will explore the role of the prefrontal cortex in the evolution of the social brain in humans. Great Apes, as the extant representatives of the ancestral lineages closely related to our own hominin lineage, are extremely useful to study in a comparative context with humans in order to gain insight into the neuroanatomical changes implicated in the evolution of social cognition, and such findings will be reviewed here. Human neurological pathologies with distinct social phenotypes are also a powerful area of study in the evolution of the social brain, because comparative studies of pathological individuals with typically developing controls allows for the possibility to associate neural correlates with specific social behaviors that may have been acted upon during the course of human brain evolution. I will focus on three such pathologies: Autism Spectrum Disorder, schizophrenia, and Williams Syndrome. Each of the pathologies have specific social phenotypes that suggest abnormalities of social functions that would have been critical to the evolution of the social brain. Lastly, I will present the findings of an original comparative research investigation of the prefrontal cortex in Williams Syndrome, and discuss the possible evolutionary implications of my findings

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