Seminar 4 2011 Discussion Page Challenge 2

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The Evolving Brain Challenge Question 3



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The Evolving Brain: social interaction and complexity - Discussion Page

Challenge Question 2



The evolutionary origins of brain expansion are believed to be linked to the adaptive advantage of social interactions within a group. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford has suggested that living in larger groups offered evolutionary advantage to our ancestors (page 6 student reading).


(a) Discuss the role of living in groups in the evolution of humans and our ancestors.

(b) Dunbar suggests that humans have evolved to live effectively in groups of approximately 150 individuals. Discuss the potential benefits and challenges that are offered to modern humans by the technological advances in communication and travel, and consider the potential effect of these on the success of human populations.


Sacred Heart College- Student: David B - 10:44 p.m. 20th June 2011

Biology seminar- Human Evolution Challenge Question 2: a) Hominoids descend from the same common ancestor as many modern day apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. As we can see all of these groups with the exception of Orangutans, who are solitary animals in adulthood, live in social groups. This is important as it tells us that – especially when the fact that the orangutans were the first group to differentiate into a different species is considered – that our evolutionary ancestors evolved to be social animals. This is no doubt due to the various advantages which being in a group offered our ancestors. There are several advantages to living in a group, for a hominoid species, these include the fact that other members of the group are able to look after a weaker, or less able member. This is due to that fact that for example a member of the group contracts a disease, others can go and hunt or gather additional food; things such as this resulted in species which formed groups having a much more secure food supply. The increased group size also made the humans look more intimidating to their natural predators, reducing the chance of an attack and increasing their ability to fight back against one. From a pure evolutionary standpoint a large group is also beneficial as it means that there are more potential mating partners and therefore a lower chance of the offspring having a genetic condition caused by inbreeding.

However, even though there are multiple advantages of living in a group there are some challenges involved. There are the obvious density dependant factors of things such as a decreased amount of space per organism resulting in less space for that organism to gather food. There is also the fact that illness is much easier spread within the species if that species forms groups. Additionally however there is the fact that living in a social group requires the individual to maintain many different social relationships. The ability to maintain a relationship requires an ability to interpret the others behavior to gain an understanding of their thoughts, and the use this knowledge to act in a manner which will not jeopardize the relationship and potentially the group. The ability to do this is determined by a particular section of the brain known as the cerebal cortex, with homo sapiens this section of the brain was exponentially enlarged, more so in comparison to the other humanoids allowing them to form the biggest groups.

The fact that homosapiens could form the largest groups maximized the previously mentioned benefits of living in a group, this is what allowed them to be the surviving species as opposed to the humanoids.

b) Now days communication and social interaction with another human has become more accessible through technological advances such as telephones, and social websites such as facebook and myspace. This advantage to which this offers modern humans is that it is now easier to find people to form a larger group and interact with many individuals at once, while still being able to simulate a one on one conversation as multiple people can be texted or online messaged and are unable to read the messages to which you are sending anyone else. Another advantage offered is that it allows communication to happen faster and for rapport to be built up faster than previously allowed as people are now available for conversation for a longer and larger period of time as you do not need a time to arrange a face to face meeting and can both be at home or with the use of mobile devices anywhere. One of the major challenges offered by this faster and more accessible method of communication is that people now often have to communicate with a larger group of people than the approximated figure of 150 suggested by anthropologist Robin Dunbar. This larger group of people with which we are expected to maintain social interaction can make things seem confusing as now more memory must be used to store information about the relationships which you have. The fact you can now also have many conversations at the same time where the conversations are separate due to the nature of instant or text messaging. This makes it easy to confuse the conversations and not pay them the attention and focus required for a successful social interaction. Also in instant or text messages many undertones in communication can be not read or misunderstood such as sarcasm or the complete removal of body language from conversations. In conclusion there are many challenges and advantages of technological interactions, the advantages being the ability to contact multiple people faster, more often and at the same time. However one of the major challenges of brought about through the advancement of communication technologies is due to the same reasons as its advantages, as it is easier to communicate with people we are now expected to communicate with a larger number of people which can be confusing as the information which is required to be remembered to maintain all these social relationships can exceed the brains capabilities. It also has the challenge of removing elements such as undertones and body language so more must be communicated simply through the words used.