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The social brain (or Machiavellian Intelligence) hypothesis was proposed to explain primates' unusually large brains: It argues that the cognitive demands of living in complexly bonded social groups selected for increases in executive brain (principally neocortex). The evidence for this and alternative hypotheses is reviewed. Although there remain difficulties of interpretation, the bulk of the evidence comes down in favor of the social brain hypothesis. The extent to which the cognitive demands of bonding large intensely social groups involve aspects of social cognition, such as theory of mind, is explored. These findings are then related to the evolution of social group size, language, and culture within the hominid lineage. © 2003 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Annual Review of Anthropology

Publication Date





163 - 181