Neuroscience needs evolution

Paul Cisek, Benjamin Y. Hayden

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The nervous system is a product of evolution. That is, it was constructed through a long series ofmodifications, within the strong constraints of heredity, and continuously subjected to intense selection pressures. As a result, the organization and functions of the brain are shaped by its history. We believe that this fact, underappreciated in contemporary systems neuroscience, offers an invaluable aid for helping us resolve the brain's mysteries. Indeed, we think that the consideration of evolutionary history ought to take its place alongside other intellectual tools used to understand the brain, such as behavioural experiments, studies of anatomical structure and functional characterization based on recordings of neural activity. In this introduction, we argue for the importance of evolution by highlighting specific examples of ways that evolutionary theory can enhance neuroscience. The rest of the theme issue elaborates this point, emphasizing the conservative nature of neural evolution, the important consequences of specific transitions that occurred in our history, and the ways in which considerations of evolution can shed light on issues ranging from specific mechanisms to fundamental principles of brain organization. This article is part of the theme issue 'Systems neuroscience through the lens of evolutionary theory'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20200518
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1844
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
P.C. is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (grant no. MOP-102662), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (grant no. RGPIN/05245) and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec. B.Y.H. is supported by NIH grants (grant nos. DA038615 and MH125377).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.


  • developmental neuroscience
  • evolutionary neuroscience
  • ontology
  • phylogenetic history
  • psychology

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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