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New Undergraduate Course Supplement 2020

PSYC 80.06 Advanced Seminar on Brain Evolution

For the first 200 million years of mammalian evolution, most animals’ brain sizes were highly predictable from their body size. In the past four million years, an evolutionary blink of the eye, primates rapidly evolved brains that are several times larger than previously would have been predicted for their body size. How did this occur? What are the effects of these substantial brain changes? What are the contents of human brains, and how do they differ from the brains of other primates (and other mammals, and non-mammals)? Evolution acts on genes, not on organisms; what are the genetic factors that have been identified in recent primate brain growth? What relationships may obtain between anatomical and functional brain characteristics? What mechanisms are at play, including extrinsic factors and evolutionary “pressures”? What differential predictions do various theories make, and how are they tested? How would we know if a hypothesis is false; how do we know if they are falsifiable? The class will critically examine a set of related topics including brain structure, anthropology, evolution, genetics, development, cognition, race, intelligence.

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