February 6, 2014

Planning area of the brain "specifically human".

That's what a new paper claims, based in scan comparison with macaques.

Franz-Xaver Neubert, Comparison of Human Ventral Frontal Cortex Areas for Cognitive Control and Language with Areas in Monkey Frontal Cortex. Neuron 2014. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.11.012]

Highlights
  • Fundamental similarities in human and monkey cognitive control and language areas
  • Monkey areas resemble human cognitive control and language areas
  • These areas differ in how they connect to areas in the temporal cortex
  • Identification of a unique to humans area in the human lateral frontal pole

Summary

Human ventrolateral frontal cortex (vlFC) is identified with cognitive processes such as language and cognitive flexibility. The relationship between it and the vlFC of other primates has therefore been the subject of particular speculation. We used a combination of structural and functional neuroimaging methods to identify key components of human vlFC. We compared how vlFC areas interacted with other brain areas in 25 humans and 25 macaques using the same methods. We identified a core set of 11 vlFC components that interacted in similar ways with similar distributed circuits in both species and, in addition, one distinctively human component in ventrolateral frontal pole. Fundamental differences in interactions with posterior auditory association areas in the two species were also present—these were ubiquitous throughout posterior human vlFC but channeled to different frontal regions in monkeys. Finally, there were some differences in interregional interactions within vlFC in the two species.


The vlFC is marked in red

According to the lead author:
This area has been identified with strategic planning and decision making as well as "multi-tasking".

So, I would say, this implies that we are human, psychologically speaking, mostly because of our planning capacity and related decision-making discernment? Multi-tasking may also be important because it implies the ability of partly or totally stopping an activity, according to priorities, and yet retake it at a later moment, what seems intimately related to planning and decision-making.

It would be most interesting to find out how it works in other intelligent animals such as many cetaceans, elephants or non-human great apes. Macaques are very intelligent anyhow but, from an evolutionary viewpoint, I wonder if other species are more similar to us in this aspect or even have developed their own alternative psycho-architectures with similar results.

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