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Communication and the Primate Brain: Insights from Neuroimaging Studies in Humans, Chimpanzees and Macaques

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ben Wilson, Professor Christopher Petkov


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Considerable knowledge is available on the neural substrates for speech and language from brain-imaging studies in humans, but until recently there was a lack of data for comparison from other animal species on the evolutionarily conserved brain regions that process species-specific communication signals. To obtain new insights into the relationship of the substrates for communication in primates, we compared the results from several neuroimaging studies in humans with those that have recently been obtained from macaque monkeys and chimpanzees. The recent work in humans challenges the longstanding notion of highly localized speech areas. As a result, the brain regions that have been identified in humans for speech and nonlinguistic voice processing show a striking general correspondence to how the brains of other primates analyze species-specific vocalizations or information in the voice, such as voice identity. The comparative neuroimaging work has begun to clarify evolutionary relationships in brain function, supporting the notion that the brain regions that process communication signals in the human brain arose from a precursor network of regions that is present in nonhuman primates and is used for processing species-specific vocalizations. We conclude by considering how the stage now seems to be set for comparative neurobiology to characterize the ancestral state of the network that evolved in humans to support language.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wilson B, Petkov CI

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Human Biology

Year: 2011

Volume: 83

Issue: 2

Pages: 175-189

Print publication date: 01/04/2011

ISSN (print): 0018-7143

ISSN (electronic):

Publisher: Wayne State University Press


DOI: 10.3378/027.083.0203


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