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The social brain hypothesis argues that large brains have arisen over evolutionary time as a response to the social and ecological conflicts inherent in group living. We test predictions arising from the hypothesis using comparative data from birds and four mammalian orders (Carnivora, Artiodactyla, Chiroptera and Primates) and show that, across all non-primate taxa, relative brain size is principally related to pairbonding, but with enduring stable relationships in primates. We argue that this reflects the cognitive demands of the behavioural coordination and synchrony that is necessary to maintain stable pairbonded relationships. However, primates differ from the other taxa in that they also exhibit a strong effect of group size on brain size. We use data from two behavioural indices of social intensity (enduring bonds between group members and time devoted to social activities) to show that primate relationships differ significantly from those of other taxa. We suggest that, among vertebrates in general, pairbonding represents a qualitative shift from loose aggregations of individuals to complex negotiated relationships, and that these bonded relationships have been generalized to all social partners in only a few taxa (such as anthropoid primates).

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





2429 - 2436


Animals, Biological Evolution, Birds, Brain, Female, Male, Mammals, Organ Size, Pair Bond, Primates, Social Behavior