The Social Brain Hypothesis Thirty Years On: Some Philosophical Pitfalls of Deconstructing Dunbar’s Number
The social brain hypothesis was proposed 30 years ago as an explanation for the fact that primates have much larger brains than
all other animals. The claim was that primates live in unusually complex societies, and hence need a large ‘computer’ to manage the
relationships involved. The core evidence subsequently provided in support of this claim was a simple statistical relationship between the social group size characteristic of a species and the size of its brain, with humans fitting into this pattern. However, testing evolutionary hypotheses raises some challenging
philosophical and statistical issues that are often overlooked, and great care is needed to ensure that we test the hypothesis we think we are testing. Here, I examine some of these challenges and illustrate the traps they can create for the unwary.
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