Brain system size and adult – Adult play in primates: A comparative analysis of the roles of the non-visual neocortex and the amygdala

Recent studies have shown that contrary to expectation, larger-brained species within mammalian orders are not more likely to engage in play. This is true for juvenile rodents, juvenile marsupials and adult primates. Neither does the relative size of the neocortex predict the prevalence of play in species of marsupials and primates. Two methodological limitations may account for the lack of such relationships. Firstly, play may only vary systematically with specific brain areas, not overall size increases in brain tissue. Secondly, the play indices used to measure the variation in play across species may be insufficiently sensitive to the effects of changes in brain size. In this study, we attempt to deal with the first methodological problem. The adult-adult play fighting among species of primates was correlated with the relative size of the non-visual cortex and the amygdala. The statistical analyses used took into account the problems of scaling and corrected for degree of phylogenetic relatedness among the species. The size of the non-visual cortex failed to predict the prevalence of play fighting occurring in either sexual or non-sexual contexts. In contrast, the size of the amygdala significantly predicted the prevalence of sexual play, but not non-sexual play. That is, species with larger sized amygdala are more likely to engage in sexual play. These findings provide new insights into the role of different brain systems in the regulation of play behavior. Copyright © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.

Recent studies have shown that contrary to expectation, larger-brained species within mammalian orders are not more likely to engage in play. This is true for juvenile rodents, juvenile marsupials and adult primates. Neither does the relative size of the neocortex predict the prevalence of play in species of marsupials and primates. Two methodological limitations may account for the lack of such relationships. Firstly, play may only vary systematically with specific brain areas, not overall size increases in brain tissue. Secondly, the play indices used to measure the variation in play across species may be insufficiently sensitive to the effects of changes in brain size. In this study, we attempt to deal with the first methodological problem. The adult-adult play fighting among species of primates was correlated with the relative size of the non-visual cortex and the amygdala. The statistical analyses used took into account the problems of scaling and corrected for degree of phylogenetic relatedness among the species. The size of the non-visual cortex failed to predict the prevalence of play fighting occurring in either sexual or non-sexual contexts. In contrast, the size of the amygdala significantly predicted the prevalence of sexual play, but not non-sexual play. That is, species with larger sized amygdala are more likely to engage in sexual play. These findings provide new insights into the role of different brain systems in the regulation of play behavior. Copyright © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.

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