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CURRENT DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Cognition Without Control When a Little Frontal Lobe Goes a Long Way

By Sharon L. Thompson-schill, Michael Ramscar and Evangelia G. Chrysikou


ABSTRACT—The prefrontal cortex is crucial for the ability to regulate thought and control behavior. The development of the human cerebral cortex is characterized by an extended period of maturation during which young children exhibit marked deficits in cognitive control. We contend that prolonged prefrontal immaturity is, on balance, advantageous and that the positive consequences of this developmental trajectory outweigh the negative. Particularly, we argue that cognitive control impedes convention learning and that delayed prefrontal maturation is a necessary adaptation for human learning of social and linguistic conventions. We conclude with a discussion of recent observations that are relevant to this claim of evolutionary trade-offs in a wide range of research areas, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, creativity, and sleep. KEYWORDS—cognitive control; developmental; frontal lobe; creativity If you are eating right now, be warned: You can choke to death on your food. You suffer this danger because of the position of your larynx, which sits atop your trachea in your neck. In most animals (and human infants) the larynx sits high in the throat and food passes from the mouth into the esophagus without ever crossing the larynx. But in adult humans (and some aquatic mammals), the larynx is lower in the neck; consequently, food must pass over the larynx on its way to the stomach. Our primate cousins do not have this odd conjunction of the eating and breathing apparatus, which has led some evolutionary biologists to speculate on the reasons for this point of divergence in human evolution. What advantage might this risky anatomical arrangement afford humans? Vibrations of the vocal folds of the larynx produce sounds, which are altered as they travel through the vocal tract from the larynx to the mouth; the peculiar configuration of the elongated human supralaryngeal vocal tract permits a greate

Year: 2013
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