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Can we measure brain efficiency? An empirical test with common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)


Strasser, A; Burkart, J M (2012). Can we measure brain efficiency? An empirical test with common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus). Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 80:26-40.

Abstract

Various measures of brain size correlate with cognitive performance; however, the fit is not perfect, which bears the question of whether brains also vary in efficiency. Such variation could be expected if a species faces constraints on brain enlargement, for example due to the impossibility of slowing down life history as a consequence of predator pressure, while simultaneously experiencing selective benefits from enhanced cognitive ability related to particular ecological or social conditions. Arguably, this applies to callitrichid monkeys and would lead to the prediction that their relatively small brains are particularly efficient in comparison to their sister taxa, Cebus. This study investigated whether callitrichids' cognitive performance is better than would be expected given their brain size rather than comparing absolute performance between the taxa. As a measure of cognitive performance, we used the reversal learning paradigm, which is reliably and closely associated with brain size across primate taxa, and assessed performance in this paradigm (transfer index) in 14 common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) as representatives of the callitrichids. These marmosets were found to show higher performance than would be expected for their brain size, and this relative performance was also higher than the relative performance in capuchin monkeys. We outline how these effects may be due to the cooperative breeding system of the callitrichids, particularly the enhancement of behavioural and cognitive propensities associated with shared care and provisioning.

Various measures of brain size correlate with cognitive performance; however, the fit is not perfect, which bears the question of whether brains also vary in efficiency. Such variation could be expected if a species faces constraints on brain enlargement, for example due to the impossibility of slowing down life history as a consequence of predator pressure, while simultaneously experiencing selective benefits from enhanced cognitive ability related to particular ecological or social conditions. Arguably, this applies to callitrichid monkeys and would lead to the prediction that their relatively small brains are particularly efficient in comparison to their sister taxa, Cebus. This study investigated whether callitrichids' cognitive performance is better than would be expected given their brain size rather than comparing absolute performance between the taxa. As a measure of cognitive performance, we used the reversal learning paradigm, which is reliably and closely associated with brain size across primate taxa, and assessed performance in this paradigm (transfer index) in 14 common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) as representatives of the callitrichids. These marmosets were found to show higher performance than would be expected for their brain size, and this relative performance was also higher than the relative performance in capuchin monkeys. We outline how these effects may be due to the cooperative breeding system of the callitrichids, particularly the enhancement of behavioural and cognitive propensities associated with shared care and provisioning.

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3 citations in Web of Science®
4 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:2012
Deposited On:25 Oct 2012 10:44
Last Modified:22 Jun 2016 14:54
Publisher:Karger
ISSN:0006-8977
Additional Information:© 2012 S. Karger AG
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1159/000338014
PubMed ID:22846401
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-65797

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