The social brain hypothesis (an explanation for the evolution of brain size in primates) predicts that humans typically cannot maintain more than 150 relationships at any one time. The constraint is partly cognitive (ultimately determined by some aspect of brain volume) and partly one of time. Friendships (but not necessarily kin relationships) are maintained by investing time in them, and failure to do so results in an inexorable deterioration in the quality of a relationship. The Internet, and in particular the rise of social networking sites (SNSs), raises the possibility that digital media might allow us to circumvent some or all of these constraints. This allows us to test the importance of these constraints in limiting human sociality. Although the recency of SNSs means that there have been relatively few studies, those that are available suggest that, in general, the ability to broadcast to many individuals at once, and the possibilities this provides in terms of continuously updating our understanding of network members’ behaviour and thoughts, do not allow larger networks to be maintained. This may be because only relatively weak quality relationships can be maintained without face-to-face interaction.
social brain hypothesis; social networks; Internet; social networking site; relationships
Primate societies are characterized by bonded social relationships of a kind that are rare in other mammal taxa. These bonded relationships, which provide the basis for coalitions, are underpinned by an endorphin mechanism mediated by social grooming. However, bonded relationships of this kind impose constraints on the size of social groups that are possible. When ecological pressures have demanded larger groups, primates have had to evolve new mechanisms to facilitate bonding. This has involved increasing the size of vocal and visual communication repertoires, increasing the time devoted to social interaction and developing a capacity to manage two-tier social relationships (strong and weak ties). I consider the implications of these constraints for the evolution of human social communities and argue that laughter was an early evolutionary innovation that helped bridge the bonding gap between the group sizes characteristic of chimpanzees and australopithecines and those in later hominins.
social complexity; social network; primates; social bonding; laughter
The social brain hypothesis, an explanation for the unusually large brains of primates, posits that the size of social group typical of a species is directly related to the volume of its neocortex. To test whether this hypothesis also applies at the within-species level, we applied the Cavalieri method of stereology in conjunction with point counting on magnetic resonance images to determine the volume of prefrontal cortex (PFC) subfields, including dorsal and orbital regions. Path analysis in a sample of 40 healthy adult humans revealed a significant linear relationship between orbital (but not dorsal) PFC volume and the size of subjects' social networks that was mediated by individual intentionality (mentalizing) competences. The results support the social brain hypothesis by indicating a relationship between PFC volume and social network size that applies within species, and, more importantly, indicates that the relationship is mediated by social cognitive skills.
MRI; prefrontal cortex; stereology; social network
Although laughter forms an important part of human non-verbal communication, it has received rather less attention than it deserves in both the experimental and the observational literatures. Relaxed social (Duchenne) laughter is associated with feelings of wellbeing and heightened affect, a proximate explanation for which might be the release of endorphins. We tested this hypothesis in a series of six experimental studies in both the laboratory (watching videos) and naturalistic contexts (watching stage performances), using change in pain threshold as an assay for endorphin release. The results show that pain thresholds are significantly higher after laughter than in the control condition. This pain-tolerance effect is due to laughter itself and not simply due to a change in positive affect. We suggest that laughter, through an endorphin-mediated opiate effect, may play a crucial role in social bonding.
laughter; positive affect; pain threshold; endorphins; social bonding
Why are individuals altruistic to their friends? Theory suggests that individual, relationship and network factors will all influence the levels of altruism; but to date, the effects of social network structure have received relatively little attention. The present study uses a novel correlational design to test the prediction that an individual will be more altruistic to friends who are well-connected to the individual's other friends. The result shows that, as predicted, even when controlling for a range of individual and relationship factors, the network factor (number of connections) makes a significant contribution to altruism, thus showing that individuals are more likely to be altruistic to better-connected members of their social networks. The implications of incorporating network structure into studies of altruism are discussed.
altruism; network; friendship; cooperation
Physical exercise is known to stimulate the release of endorphins, creating a mild sense of euphoria that has rewarding properties. Using pain tolerance (a conventional non-invasive assay for endorphin release), we show that synchronized training in a college rowing crew creates a heightened endorphin surge compared with a similar training regime carried out alone. This heightened effect from synchronized activity may explain the sense of euphoria experienced during other social activities (such as laughter, music-making and dancing) that are involved in social bonding in humans and possibly other vertebrates.
endorphins; rowing; synchronized performance; euphoria
Most primates are intensely social and spend a large amount of time servicing social relationships. In this study, we use social network analysis to examine the relationship between primate group size, total brain size, neocortex ratio and several social network metrics concerned with network cohesion. Using female grooming networks from a number of Old World monkey species, we found that neocortex size was a better predictor of network characteristics than endocranial volumes. We further found that when we controlled for group size, neocortex ratio was negatively correlated with network density, connectivity, relative clan size and proportional clan membership, while there was no effect of neocortex ratio on change in connectivity following the removal of the most central female in the network. Thus, in species with larger neocortex ratios, females generally live in more fragmented networks, belong to smaller grooming clans and are members of relatively fewer clans despite living in a closely bonded group. However, even though groups are more fragmented to begin with among species with larger neocortices, the removal of the most central individual does cause groups to fall apart, suggesting that social complexity may ultimately involve the management of highly fragmented social groups while at the same time maintaining overall social cohesion. These results emphasize a need for more detailed brain data on a wider sample of primate species.
primates; social brain; social cohesion; social complexity; neocortex ratio
The social brain hypothesis argues that large brains have arisen over evolutionary time as a response to the social and ecological conflicts inherent in group living. We test predictions arising from the hypothesis using comparative data from birds and four mammalian orders (Carnivora, Artiodactyla, Chiroptera and Primates) and show that, across all non-primate taxa, relative brain size is principally related to pairbonding, but with enduring stable relationships in primates. We argue that this reflects the cognitive demands of the behavioural coordination and synchrony that is necessary to maintain stable pairbonded relationships. However, primates differ from the other taxa in that they also exhibit a strong effect of group size on brain size. We use data from two behavioural indices of social intensity (enduring bonds between group members and time devoted to social activities) to show that primate relationships differ significantly from those of other taxa. We suggest that, among vertebrates in general, pairbonding represents a qualitative shift from loose aggregations of individuals to complex negotiated relationships, and that these bonded relationships have been generalized to all social partners in only a few taxa (such as anthropoid primates).
brain size; pairbonding; mammals; birds; primates
We present a detailed reanalysis of the comparative brain data for primates, and develop a model using path analysis that seeks to present the coevolution of primate brain (neocortex) and sociality within a broader ecological and life-history framework. We show that body size, basal metabolic rate and life history act as constraints on brain evolution and through this influence the coevolution of neocortex size and group size. However, they do not determine either of these variables, which appear to be locked in a tight coevolutionary system. We show that, within primates, this relationship is specific to the neocortex. Nonetheless, there are important constraints on brain evolution; we use path analysis to show that, in order to evolve a large neocortex, a species must first evolve a large brain to support that neocortex and this in turn requires adjustments in diet (to provide the energy needed) and life history (to allow sufficient time both for brain growth and for ‘software’ programming). We review a wider literature demonstrating a tight coevolutionary relationship between brain size and sociality in a range of mammalian taxa, but emphasize that the social brain hypothesis is not about the relationship between brain/neocortex size and group size per se; rather, it is about social complexity and we adduce evidence to support this. Finally, we consider the wider issue of how mammalian (and primate) brains evolve in order to localize the social effects.
brain evolution; life history; neocortex; primate; social brain hypothesis
Prey use a wide variety of anti-predator defence strategies, including morphological and chemical defences as well as behavioural traits (risk-modulated habitat use, changes in activity patterns, foraging decisions and group living). The critical test of how effective anti-predator strategies are is to relate them to relative indices of mortality across predators. Here, we compare biases in predator diet composition with prey characteristics and show that chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and felid show the strongest and the most consistent predator bias towards small-brained prey. We propose that large-brained prey are likely to be more effective at evading predators because they can effectively alter their behavioural responses to specific predator encounters. Thus, we provide evidence for the hypothesis that brain size evolution is potentially driven by selection for more sophisticated and behaviourally flexible anti-predator strategies.
prey choice; tropical forests; predation risks; hunting strategies
Among mammals, the members of some Orders have relatively large brains. Alternative explanations for this have emphasized either social or ecological selection pressures favouring greater information-processing capacities, including large group size, greater foraging efficiency, higher innovation rates, better invasion success and complex problem solving. However, the focal taxa for these analyses (primates, carnivores and birds) often show both varied ecological competence and social complexity. Here, we focus on the specific relationship between social complexity and brain size in ungulates, a group with relatively simple patterns of resource use, but extremely varied social behaviours. The statistical approach we used, phylogenetic generalized least squares, showed that relative brain size was independently associated with sociality and social complexity as well as with habitat use, while relative neocortex size is associated with social but not ecological factors. A simple index of sociality was a better predictor of both total brain and neocortex size than group size, which may indicate that the cognitive demands of sociality depend on the nature of social relationships as well as the total number of individuals in a group.
social brain; behavioural flexibility; cognitive capacity; social complexity
Although predation avoidance is the most commonly invoked explanation for vertebrate social evolution, there is little evidence that individuals in larger groups experience lower predation rates than those in small groups. We compare the morphological and behavioural traits of mammal prey species in the Taï forest, Ivory Coast, with the diet preferences of three of their non-human predators: leopards, chimpanzees and African crowned eagles. Individual predators show marked differences in their predation rates on prey species of different body sizes, but clear patterns with prey behaviour were apparent only when differences in prey habitat use were incorporated into the analyses. Leopard predation rates are highest for terrestrial species living in smaller groups, whereas eagle predation rates are negatively correlated with group size only among arboreal prey. When prey predation rates are summed over all three predators, terrestrial species incur higher predation rates than arboreal species and, within both categories, predation rates decline with increasing prey group size and decreasing density of groups in the habitat. These results reveal that it is necessary to consider anti-predator strategies in the context of a dynamic behavioural interaction between predators and prey.
The ‘social brain hypothesis’ for the evolution of large brains in primates has led to evidence for the coevolution of neocortical size and social group sizes, suggesting that there is a cognitive constraint on group size that depends, in some way, on the volume of neural material available for processing and synthesizing information on social relationships. More recently, work on both human and non-human primates has suggested that social groups are often hierarchically structured. We combine data on human grouping patterns in a comprehensive and systematic study. Using fractal analysis, we identify, with high statistical confidence, a discrete hierarchy of group sizes with a preferred scaling ratio close to three: rather than a single or a continuous spectrum of group sizes, humans spontaneously form groups of preferred sizes organized in a geometrical series approximating 3–5, 9–15, 30–45, etc. Such discrete scale invariance could be related to that identified in signatures of herding behaviour in financial markets and might reflect a hierarchical processing of social nearness by human brains.
social brain hypothesis; social group size; log-periodicity; fractal analysis
Hungarian Gypsy populations invest more heavily in daughters than in sons compared to co-resident Hungarians, in conformity with the predictions of the Trivers–Willard hypothesis. These effects are shown for four different measures of parental investment (sex ratio at birth, frequency of abortion, duration of breast-feeding and length of education). Opportunities for hypergamy into the wealthier Hungarian population appears to be one factor causing Gypsies to prefer daughters over sons. We show that differential investment by sex of offspring is directly related to the fitness pay-offs that accrue for each population through both sexes of offspring.
Parental Investment Sex Bias Sex Ratio Trivers–Willard Effect Gypsies