A team of neurological researchers from Oxford University have discovered something pretty cool.
The team’s latest research, led by Franz-Xaver Neubert, involved performing MRI scans on the brains of humans and macaque monkeys. The researchers were looking to discover not only the similarities between human and primate brains, but also the differences.
Of course, as has been long known in the scientific community, humans and primates share an uncanny number of similarities in their brains. In their study, researchers took a closer look at one specific area of the brain unique to us and primates: the ventrolateral frontal cortex.
Of the 12 different sections of this cortex, scientists found we share 11 of them with primates. Many of these areas play key roles in language, cognition, and emotion. These areas are also involved in mental illnesses like ADHD, drug addiction, and compulsive behavior, implying that primates can suffer from many of the same mental illnesses as humans.
But what about that one area of the ventrolateral frontal cortex that we don’t share with primates? What’s that all about? Researchers identified this as the lateral frontal pole. It’s function is weighing good decision versus bad ones and deciding what we could have done differently in the past as well as what we should do differently in the future. This introspective ability looks to be unique to us.
“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,” researcher 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.
“…This region monitors how good the choices are that we don't take," Rushworth concluded, "How green the grass is on the other side."