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Approved Research

The social brain hypothesis revisited: Evaluating signatures of selection pressure in genes regulating social complexity, neurobiology and neuropsychiatric disorders

Principal Investigator: Professor Martien Kas
Approved Research ID: 91026
Approval date: September 16th 2022

Lay summary

The human brain has unique characteristics which have allowed humans to develop the technological advances which have led to modern societies. The question as to why humans have developed such advanced cognitive capabilities compared to other animals has puzzled scientists for a long time. In the twentieth century the idea was developed that both humans and primates developed brains capable of complex cognitive tasks specifically to deal with the intricate societies which could help them avoid predators or find resources. However, to this day, no direct evidence has been found to support this 'social brain hypothesis'. Also, if humans did indeed develop such advanced brains in order to navigate our social environments, why are disorders characterized by extreme social dysfunction, such as autism spectrum disorders, relatively common in humans? In this project, we aim to find evidence regarding the evolution of human social behavior and the human brain, and to determine how these evolutionary processes are related to the biology underlying neuropsychiatric disorders. Discovering the evolutionary origins of neuropsychiatric disorders may in the future lead to new diagnostic and treatment methods. The anticipated project duration is 36 months.