Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of procbThe Royal Society PublishingProceedings BAboutBrowse by SubjectAlertsFree Trial
Proc Biol Sci. 2004 April 22; 271(1541): 853–857.
PMCID: PMC1691668

The evolution of brain lateralization: a game-theoretical analysis of population structure.


In recent years, it has become apparent that behavioural and brain lateralization at the population level is the rule rather than the exception among vertebrates. The study of these phenomena has so far been the province of neurology and neuropsychology. Here, we show how such research can be integrated with evolutionary biology to understand lateralization more fully. In particular, we address the fact that, within a species, left- and right-type individuals often occur in proportions different from one-half (e.g. hand use in humans). The traditional explanations offered for lateralization of brain function (that it may avoid unnecessary duplication of neural circuitry and reduce interference between functions) cannot account for this fact, because increased individual efficiency is unrelated to the alignment of lateralization at the population level. A further puzzle is that such an alignment may even be disadvantageous, as it makes individual behaviour more predictable to other organisms. Here, we show that alignment of the direction of behavioural asymmetries in a population can arise as an evolutionarily stable strategy when individual asymmetrical organisms must coordinate their behaviour with that of other asymmetrical organisms. Brain and behavioural lateralization, as we know it in humans and other vertebrates, may have evolved under basically 'social' selection pressures.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (83K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Cantalupo C, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G. Lateralization of predator-evasion response in a teleost fish (Girardinus falcatus). Neuropsychologia. 1995 Dec;33(12):1637–1646. [PubMed]
  • Corballis MC. The genetics and evolution of handedness. Psychol Rev. 1997 Oct;104(4):714–727. [PubMed]
  • Güntürkün O, Kesch S. Visual lateralization during feeding in pigeons. Behav Neurosci. 1987 Jun;101(3):433–435. [PubMed]
  • Güntürkün O, Diekamp B, Manns M, Nottelmann F, Prior H, Schwarz A, Skiba M. Asymmetry pays: visual lateralization improves discrimination success in pigeons. Curr Biol. 2000 Sep 7;10(17):1079–1081. [PubMed]
  • Hori M. Frequency-dependent natural selection in the handedness of scale-eating cichlid fish. Science. 1993 Apr 9;260(5105):216–219. [PubMed]
  • Hunt GR, Corballis MC, Gray RD. Animal behaviour: Laterality in tool manufacture by crows. Nature. 2001 Dec 13;414(6865):707–707. [PubMed]
  • Levy J. The mammalian brain and the adaptive advantage of cerebral asymmetry. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1977 Sep 30;299:264–272. [PubMed]
  • Lippolis Giuseppe, Bisazza Angelo, Rogers Lesley J, Vallortigara Giorgio. Lateralisation of predator avoidance responses in three species of toads. Laterality. 2002;7(2):163–183. [PubMed]
  • Smith JM, Sondhi KC. The Genetics of a Pattern. Genetics. 1960 Aug;45(8):1039–1050. [PubMed]
  • Mench JA, Andrew RJ. Lateralization of a food search task in the domestic chick. Behav Neural Biol. 1986 Sep;46(2):107–114. [PubMed]
  • Peirce JW, Leigh AE, Kendrick KM. Configurational coding, familiarity and the right hemisphere advantage for face recognition in sheep. Neuropsychologia. 2000;38(4):475–483. [PubMed]
  • Raymond M, Pontier D, Dufour AB, Møller AP. Frequency-dependent maintenance of left handedness in humans. Proc Biol Sci. 1996 Dec 22;263(1377):1627–1633. [PubMed]
  • Robins A, Lippolis G, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G, Rogers LJ. Lateralized agonistic responses and hindlimb use in toads. Anim Behav. 1998 Oct;56(4):875–881. [PubMed]
  • Rogers LJ. Evolution of hemispheric specialization: advantages and disadvantages. Brain Lang. 2000 Jun 15;73(2):236–253. [PubMed]
  • Sorvano VA, Rainoldi C, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G. Roots of brain specializations: preferential left-eye use during mirror-image inspection in six species of teleost fish. Behav Brain Res. 1999 Dec;106(1-2):175–180. [PubMed]
  • Sovrano VA, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G. Lateralization of response to social stimuli in fishes: a comparison between different methods and species. Physiol Behav. 2001 Sep 1;74(1-2):237–244. [PubMed]
  • Vallortigara G. Right hemisphere advantage for social recognition in the chick. Neuropsychologia. 1992 Sep;30(9):761–768. [PubMed]
  • Vallortigara G. Comparative neuropsychology of the dual brain: a stroll through animals' left and right perceptual worlds. Brain Lang. 2000 Jun 15;73(2):189–219. [PubMed]
  • Vallortigara G, Rogers LJ, Bisazza A, Lippolis G, Robins A. Complementary right and left hemifield use for predatory and agonistic behaviour in toads. Neuroreport. 1998 Oct 5;9(14):3341–3344. [PubMed]
  • Vallortigara G, Rogers LJ, Bisazza A. Possible evolutionary origins of cognitive brain lateralization. Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1999 Aug;30(2):164–175. [PubMed]
  • Vallortigara G, Cozzutti C, Tommasi L, Rogers LJ. How birds use their eyes: Opposite left-right specialization for the lateral and frontal visual hemifield in the domestic chick. Curr Biol. 2001 Jan 9;11(1):29–33. [PubMed]
  • Vermeire BA, Hamilton CR, Erdmann AL. Right-hemispheric superiority in split-brain monkeys for learning and remembering facial discriminations. Behav Neurosci. 1998 Oct;112(5):1048–1061. [PubMed]

Articles from Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society