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The social and cultural roots of whale and dolphin brains

Fox, Kieran C. R., Muthukrishna, Michael ORCID: 0000-0002-7079-5166 and Shultz, Susanne (2017) The social and cultural roots of whale and dolphin brains. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 1 (11). pp. 1699-1705. ISSN 2397-334X

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Identification Number: 10.1038/s41559-017-0336-y

Abstract

Encephalization, or brain expansion, underpins humans’ sophisticated social cognition, including language, joint attention, shared goals, teaching, consensus decision-making and empathy. These abilities promote and stabilize cooperative social interactions, and have allowed us to create a ‘cognitive’ or ‘cultural’ niche and colonize almost every terrestrial ecosystem. Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains. Here, by evaluating a comprehensive database of brain size, social structures and cultural behaviours across cetacean species, we ask whether cetacean brains are similarly associated with a marine cultural niche. We show that cetacean encephalization is predicted by both social structure and by a quadratic relationship with group size. Moreover, brain size predicts the breadth of social and cultural behaviours, as well as ecological factors (diversity of prey types and to a lesser extent latitudinal range). The apparent coevolution of brains, social structure and behavioural richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates. Our results suggest that cetacean social cognition might similarly have arisen to provide the capacity to learn and use a diverse set of behavioural strategies in response to the challenges of social living.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: http://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0336-y
Additional Information: © 2017 Nature Publishing Group
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Sets: Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Date Deposited: 09 Nov 2017 16:09
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2021 02:54
Projects: UF110641
Funders: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Royal Society
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/85227

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