Human brains and animal brains comparison

Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 1Emma Schachner, Salt Lake City

Robert O. Duncan, a behavioral scientist at York College, the City University of New York, responds:

Self-awareness distinguishes humans from most other species. In psychology, self-awareness is defined as metacognition, awareness of one’s own ability to think. In humans, metacognition and other advanced cognitive skills, such as social intelligence, planning and reasoning, are all thought to depend on a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex.

If we assume that the prefrontal cortex permits metacognition, then the answer is simple: species that fail to demonstrate metacognition tend to lack brain areas that resemble the prefron­tal cortex. But because this area serves many cognitive functions and is well connected to the rest of the brain, the region is probably not the sole locus of metacognition. In other words, the prefrontal cortex may be necessary but not sufficient for self-awareness. Some psychologists speculate that self-awareness may arise in animals with greater overall cognitive ability, larger brain size or a higher degree of connectivity among brain areas.

Identifying the precise structural differences that make some creatures self-aware and others not is quite challenging. Most important, it is difficult to pinpoint and compare subtle structural differences across species in the face of more dramatic differences in brain morphology. For example, dolphins and chimpanzees both demonstrate metacognition, but their brains look completely different.

Additionally, simply identifying which species exhibit self-aware behavior has proved tricky because no reliable behavioral tests for the trait exist. In 1970 Gordon G. Gallup, Jr., of the University at Albany, S.U.N.Y., developed the “mirror test” to assess metacognition in chimpanzees. A chimp passes the test if it uses the mirror to inspect a mark that has been painted on its face. Although the majority of chimps pass, some do fail, causing certain scientists to consider the test unreliable.

The difficulties we have assessing self-awareness demonstrate that it is a complex trait and support the idea that no single brain area is dedicated to it. Overall, the prefrontal cortex may be critical for metacognition, but self-awareness most likely emerges when this region is highly interconnected with the rest of the brain.

You might also like

The Human Brain - Educational film describing how the
The Human Brain - Educational film describing how the ...
Human/Animal Hybrids, Rat Brains & YOU! (1/4) on The
Human/Animal Hybrids, Rat Brains & YOU! (1/4) on The ...
The Human Animal - Brain evolution
The Human Animal - Brain evolution
What dog and human brains have in common: Dedicated voice
What dog and human brains have in common: Dedicated voice ...
3B Scientific 3B Scientific C29 Rat Brain Comparative Anatomy, 5.5" Length x 3.9" Width x 6.3" Height
BISS (3B Scientific)
  • The C29 model shows a rat brain in approximate 6-fold enlargement
  • Sectioned medially, it can be disassembled into two halves
  • The right half of the model shows the structures of the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem, each of which is color-coded for didactic purposes
  • The left half of the model is largely transparent, thus revealing a view of the colored left lateral ventricle and hippocampus, which can also be seen in the median...
  • Measures 5.5 x 3.9 x 6.3
Cherish Art 100% Hand Painted Oil Paintings Gift Affrican Giraffe 5 Panels Wood Inside Framed Hanging Wall Decoration - (12x20Inchx2, 10x28Inchx2, 10x36Inchx1)
Home (Cherish Art)
  • Oil Paintings Size: 12x20Inchx2, 10x28Inchx2, 10x36Inchx1 (30x50CMx2, 25x70CMx2, 25x90CMx1).
  • Gallery wrapped and stretched with wooden frame on the back. Ready to hang. Edges are painted. A perfect wall decoration for living room, bedroom, office, hotel...
  • Hand-painted high quality canvas oil painting painted by professional artists with years of oil painting experiences. A great gift idea for your relatives and friends.
  • Actual painting may be slightly different from the product image due to the different brand of monitors,Please refer to the colors shown in the photo. Materials/Milieu:...
  • Why Hesitating? Just Choose to decorate your house to be much more warming during every day! Once you choose Cherish Art oil paitings, we will send you the official...
V-Med Supply Blueprint for Health Charts
BISS (V-Med Supply)
  • Educational, brightly-colored charts explain the human body to children in a fun, yet informative format.
  • Activity-oriented, fact-filled charts have question and answer segments, trivia games, and/or human anatomy comparisons of children/adults, people/animals.
  • Set of nine charts includes: Your Skeleton, Your Muscles, Your Digestive System, Your Respiratory System, Nerves and the Brain, The Heart and Blood Supply, Your...
  • Each laminated chart measures 20 x 26 .


How is comparing the human brain to a modern computer an unfair comparison for the computer

The human brain and (conventional) electronic computers work in vastly different ways. A computer follows steps, one at a time, but it can do each one incredibly quickly. The human brain by comparison is much slower, but it has roughly 500 billion neurons, and they're all doing their job at once. Modern computers can't match the sheer scale of the human brain.

Copyright © . All Rights Reserved