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Evan L. MacLean, Duke UniversityFollow
Brian Hare, Duke University
Charles L. Nunn, Duke University
Elsa Addessi, Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
Federica Amici, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Rindy C. Anderson, Duke University
Filippo Aureli, Universidad Veracruzana
Joseph M. Baker, Stanford University
Amanda E. Bania, Center for Animal Care Sciences
Allison M. Barnard, University of Rochester
Neeltje J. Boogert, University of St. Andrews
Elizabeth M. Brannon, Duke University
Emily E. Bray, University of Pennsylvania
Joel Bray, Duke University
Lauren J. N. Brent, Duke University
Judith M. Burkart, University of Zurich
Josep Call, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Jessica F. Cantlon, University of Rochester
Lucy G. Cheke, University of Cambridge
Nicola S. Clayton, University of Cambridge
Mikel M. Delgado, University of California
Louis J. DiVindenti, University of Rochester
Kazuo Fujita, Kyoto University
Esther Herrmann, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Chihiro Hiramatsu, Kyoto University
Lucia F. Jacobs, University of California
Kerry E. Jordan, Utah State University
Jennifer R. Laude, University of Kentucky
Kristin L. Leimgruber, Yale University
Emily J. E. Messer, University of St. Andrews
Antonio C. de A. Moura, Universidade Federal da Paraiba
Ljerka Ostojic, University of Cambridge
Alejandra Picard, University of York
Michael L. Platt, Duke University
Joshua M. Plotnik, University of York
Friederike Range, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
Simon M. Reader, McGill University
Rachna B. Reddy, University of Michigan
Aaron A. Sandel, University of Michigan
Laurie R. Santos, Yale University
Katrin Schumann, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Amanda M. Seed, University of St. Andrews
Kendra B. Sewall, Duke University
Rachael C. Shaw, University of Cambridge
Katie E. Slocombre, University of York
Yanjie Su, Peking University
Ayaka Takimoto, Kyoto University
Jingzhi Tan, Duke University
Ruoting Tao, University of St. Andrews
Carel P. van Schaik, University of Zurich
Zsofia Viranyi, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
Elisabetta Visalberghi, Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
Jordan C. Wade, University of Kentucky
Arii Watanabe, University of Cambridge
Janes Widness, Yale University
Julie K. Young, Utah State UniversityFollow
Thomas R. Zentall, University of Kentucky
Yini Zhao, Peking University

Date of this Version



MacLean, Evan L., et al. "The evolution of self-control." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.20 (2014): E2140-E2148.


U.S. government work.


Cognition presents evolutionary research with one of its greatest challenges. Cognitive evolution has been explained at the proximate level by shifts in absolute and relative brain volume and at the ultimate level by differences in social and dietary complexity. However, no study has integrated the experimental and phylogenetic approach at the scale required to rigorously test these explanations. Instead, previous research has largely relied on various measures of brain size as proxies for cognitive abilities. We experimentally evaluated these major evolutionary explanations by quantitatively comparing the cognitive performance of 567 individuals representing 36 species on two problem-solving tasks measuring self-control. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that absolute brain volume best predicted performance across species and accounted for considerably more variance than brain volume controlling for body mass. This result corroborates recent advances in evolutionary neurobiology and illustrates the cognitive consequences of cortical reorganization through increases in brain volume. Within primates, dietary breadth but not social group size was a strong predictor of species differences in self-control. Our results implicate robust evolutionary relationships between dietary breadth, absolute brain volume, and self-control. These findings provide a significant first step toward quantifying the primate cognitive phenome and explaining the process of cognitive evolution.

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