The prefrontal cortex makes up almost a third of the human brain, and it expanded dramatically during primate evolution.
The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex presents a new theory about its fundamental function. In this important new book, the authors argue that primate-specific parts of the prefrontal cortex evolved to reduce errors in foraging choices, so that our ancestors could overcome periodic food shortages. This evolutionary development laid the foundation for working out problems in our imagination, which resulted in the origin of insights that allow humans to avoid errors entirely, at least at times.
In the book, the authors detail which parts of the prefrontal cortex evolved exclusively in primates, how its connections explain why the prefrontal cortex alone can perform its function, and why other parts of the brain cannot do what the prefrontal cortex does. Based on an analysis of its evolutionary history, the book uses evidence from lesion, imaging, and cell-recording experiments to argue that the primate prefrontal cortex generates goals from a current behavioural context and that it can do so on the basis of single events. As a result, the prefrontal cortex uses the attentive control of behaviour to augment an older general-purpose learning system, one that evolved very early in the history of animals. This older system learns slowly and cumulatively over many experiences based on reinforcement. The authors argue that a new learning system evolved in primates at a particular time and place in their history, that it did so to decrease the errors inherent in the older learning system, and that severe volatility of food resources provided the driving force for these developments.
Written by two leading brain scientists, the Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex is an important contribution to our understanding of the evolution and functioning of the human brain.
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Richard Passingham did his undergraduate degree at Oxford University (BA, 1966), and then did a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology.at the Institute of Psychiatry in London (M.Sc. 1967). Hthen undertook his Ph.D. at the University of London (1971). Afterwards he returned to Oxford University as a Research Officer on a MRC Programme Grant. He was made a University Lecturer in the Department of Experimental Psychology in 1976 and a Fellow of Wadham College in the same year. He was made an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the MRC Cyclotron Unit at the Hammersmith Hospital in 1991 and an Honorary Principal at the Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging in London in 1996. In 1993 he became an ad hominem Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience at Oxford University and became a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in 1997. Richard was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009 and Fellow of the American Psychological Society in 2010.
Steven P. Wise received a B.A. in biology from Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in biology from Washington University in St. Louis. After a brief period of postdoctoral study, he had a 30-year career as a neurophysiologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr Wise served as the Chief of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Chief of the Section on Neurophysiology of the Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience.
"[Readers] get a comprehensive and balanced presentation of the current science on prefrontal cortical function."
-- Christopher J. Graver, PhD, ABPP-CN, Doody's
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