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Brain region identified as what makes us especially human

Jan. 28, 2014 at 4:23 PM   |   Comments

OXFORD, England, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- British researchers report they've identified an area of the brain linked to cognitive processes we think of as being especially human.

The region known as the ventrolateral frontal cortex, involved in some of the most advanced planning and decision-making processes, appears unlike anything in the brains of some of our closest relatives, scientists at the University of Oxford said.

"We tend to think that being able to plan into the future, be flexible in our approach and learn from others are things that are particularly impressive about humans," psychologist Matthew Rushworth said. "We've identified an area of the brain that appears to be uniquely human and is likely to have something to do with these cognitive powers."

Magnetic resonance imaging of the brains of 25 adult volunteers was used to identify key components in the ventrolateral frontal cortex area. Those MRI images were then compared to those of 25 macaque monkeys.

Overall, they were very similar with 11 of the 12 areas being found in both species and were connected to other brain areas in very similar ways, the researchers reported.

"Each of these 12 areas has its own pattern of connections with the rest of the brain, a sort of 'neural fingerprint,' telling us it is doing something unique," Rushworth said.

However, the researchers found, one area of the human ventrolateral frontal cortex had no equivalent in the macaque -- an area called the lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex.

"We have established an area in [the] human frontal cortex which does not seem to have an equivalent in the monkey at all," study lead author Franz-Xaver Neubert said. "This area has been identified with strategic planning and decision making as well as 'multi-tasking.'"

The study has been published in the journal Neuron.

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