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Evolutionary and Developmental Changes in the Lateral Frontoparietal Network: A Little Goes a Long Way for Higher-Level Cognition


Relational thinking, or the ability to represent the relations between items, is widespread in the animal kingdom. However, humans are unparalleled in their ability to engage in the higher-order relational thinking required for reasoning and other forms of abstract thought. Here we propose that the versatile reasoning skills observed in humans can be traced back to developmental and evolutionary changes in the lateral frontoparietal network (LFPN). We first identify the regions within the LFPN that are most strongly linked to relational thinking, and show that stronger communication between these regions over the course of development supports improvements in relational reasoning. We then explore differences in the LFPN between humans and other primate species that could explain species differences in the capacity for relational reasoning. We conclude that fairly small neuroanatomical changes in specific regions of the LFPN and their connections have led to big ontogenetic and phylogenetic changes in cognition.

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