Human vs. Animal Brainpower: More Alike Than You Think

Your brain’s energy use is not as unique as experts have thought, a new study finds.

It’s been long believed that the human brain consumed a larger portion of total body energy than did the brains of many animals. The human brain accounts for 2 percent of body weight but consumes more than 25 percent of available energy.

However, researchers who compared brain energy use in humans and 22 other species found that some of those species’ brain energy demands are similar.

“We don’t have a uniquely expensive brain,” said study author Doug Boyer, an assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “This challenges a major dogma in human evolution studies.”

The findings “shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise,” he said in a university news release. “The metabolic cost of a structure like the brain is mainly dependent on how big it is, and many animals have bigger brain-to-body mass ratios than humans.”

The results suggest that a brain with higher energy needs did not first appear in early humans but millions of years before in their primate ancestors and relatives, study co-author and graduate student Arianna Harrington said in the news release.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on the brain.

— Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Oct. 31, 2017

Last Updated: Nov. 6, 2017

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