Summary and Info
Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience combines disciplines of evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience. As a PhD student in Electrical Engineering with a personal interest and only a general knowledge in both of disciplines, I found this book highly interesting, benefited from the assignment of my current neuroscience course, to read it and honestly I learned a lot.
"Foundations in Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience" is comprised of 8 chapters, each written by separate authors, on major topics of evolutionary cognitive neuroscience such as intelligence, language and face processing. Chapters present application of cognitive neuroscientific methods to answer evolutionary psychology questions. What I loved about this book was that although authors have mostly presented their own points of view, they have also provided reviews of previous and current works and have addressed some future works. I do not find myself in a position to evaluate existing theories or authors' hypotheses but rather tried to provide here a view of this book and my understandings.
Book's first chapter, written by its editors, SHACKELFORD and PLATEK as well as AARON T. GOETZ, provides a captivating introduction to evolutionary psychology. Mechanisms of natural and sexual selection, Modern Synthesis and inclusive fitness theory are among chapter's highlighted subjects about theories of evolution itself. The chapter then focuses on evolutionary psychology. It explains psychological mechanisms such as domain-specificity and provides interesting examples of how our current thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are designed to solve everyday problems of our evolutionary past.
Book's second chapter by DAVID C. GEARY, is about evolution of human intelligence the core of which is the ability to anticipate and predict variations and to devise strategies to cope with them. The author believes that the main concern is to figure out the central selection pressure that influenced evolution of human brain and mind and considers three principal classes, climatic, ecological, and social, as candidates to be chosen as the answer. Geary provides interesting information about brain evolution, introduces the concept of fluid intelligence, deliberately explains three abovementioned selection pressures and argues their role in the evolution of human intelligence. At last, he argues that social competitions and cooperation within and between groups is likely to be the answer.
Book's third chapter by JAMES J. LEE, is about the role of the general cognitive factor in evolution of human intelligence which unfortunately was hard for me to read, containing a lot of jargons and complicated sentences! Briefly, Lee believes that one of the problems of studying the evolution of human intelligence is quantitative differences among individuals in cognitive abilities which changes over the course of evolutionary time. He believes that this matter is not well explored, proposes reasons for this negligence, and discusses future prospects.
Book's forth chapter by H. CLARK BARRETT, explains the central principle of domain specificity, shows its manifestation in actual cognitive architectures, and explores how it can be used as a tool for the empirical exploration of mind design. Actually this chapter was also hard for me to read and understand; it was so abstract, although followed by examples where needed.
In the fifth chapter the interplay of biological and cultural evolution which led to the modern language is discussed by MICHAEL A. ARBIB who approaches this matter through analysis of the recent development of two new sign languages developed by deaf communities. This chapter contains valuable explanations for general readers in its early parts as well as specific details for experts in its late part. Arbib grounds his theory of language evolution based on the mirror system hypothesis which suggests that brain mechanisms supporting language evolved based on a brain mirror system for grasping. He explains how the protolanguage might have shaped and hypothesizes that a brain that could support protolanguage could also support language through cultural evolution. The author continues by deliberately analyzing the two abovementioned communities and supporting his hypothesis.
The sixth chapter by ALFREDO ARDILA, is among the fascinating and well written chapters, relating the current hypothesis on the origins of language, with the latest studies on aphasia. It discusses two basic linguistic operations, selecting and sequencing and two basic types of aphasia which disturb them respectively, Wernicke-type and Broca-type. It then mentions proposed three stages in language development: using sounds and gestures, using protowords without a grammar and using grammar. By providing various neurological and neuroscientific data about the two aphasia types, as well as children's language development and experiments with non human primates, it convincingly supports those stages of language evolution.
The seventh chapter by ANTHONY C. LITTLE and BENEDICT C. JONES, is also a great one, discussing the human brain mechanism of facial attractiveness. To reach to this aim, authors review neurobiological work on both the general reward system and the model of face preference and explain their finding that these two are very much related. Authors provide two aspects that might make faces attractive: Symmetry and learning what an average face is and comparing. It is worthy to read the whole chapter but I fun to read some notes from it: "Attractive faces are rated as most attractive when eye-gaze is directed towards the viewer and when the face is smiling" or "Inverted faces are processed in a manner more similar to other objects".
Book's eighth chapter, by HIDEHIKO TAKAHASHI and YOSHIRO OKUBO, is a short yet captivating chapter in which sex differences in jealousy in response to partner's infidelity and its probable evolutionary-wise explanation is discussed. Authors define two types of infidelity, sexual and emotional, and explain experiments and their results indicating that men and women show more brain activation in response to sexual an emotional infidelity, respectively, although there was no difference in the rating of jealousy by men or women.
Generally I appreciated this book a lot and recommend it to any of you who are interested in either topics of Cognitive Neuroscience, Evolutionary Psychology or both. As said in the editorial review, this book is for graduate students and researchers, but I dared to read it anyway and enjoyed a lot.