Scientists Had Humans and Monkeys Watch a Clint Eastwood Movie to Study Their Brains

In order to examine the way that the human brain evolved differently from that of other primates, scientists arranged for selected humans and monkeys to watch the Clint Eastwood movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

All the study participants watched 30 minutes of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, listening to the dialogue through headphones. The humans watched it once and the monkeys saw it six times, during which the participants’ eye movements were scanned and their neural activity monitored via functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The researchers found some similarities in brain activity locations among the species, but several differences, too. Monkey brain areas that fired up during movements on screen were quiescent in the humans, yet both species shared activity in other areas. This is a function of the species‘ separate evolutions — brain regions that may once have been very similar have adapted to focus on different tasks.

“The method may clarify whether specific functions are preserved in areas that anatomically correspond, are absent in one of the two species, or are shifted to other cortical locations,” Mantini and colleagues wrote. This, in turn, could shed light on how human cognitive function evolved, as compared to cognitive function in our closest cousins.


Which movie would you compel monkeys to watch?

Link | Image: United Artists

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I'd love to know if the "movement related" firing in the monkey brains was similar to the "unfamiliar movement" mirror neurons that fire in non-circus-acrobat human brains when watching Cirque de Soleil.

There was a study not long ago where they showed humans films of "familiar movements" (eg. walk up stairs, throw a ball) and films of "unfamiliar movements" (Cirque) and found that different brain regions light up.

If the monkey were using the "unfamiliar movement" part of their brains, then these researchers may be dangerously close to creating a group of Clint Eastwood-style gunslinger monkeys. A good follow up study would be to observe these monkeys and see if they begin engaging in "cowboy" behavior.
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This study is absurd in its premise. This is a study of brain response differences between humans and primates, and proves absolutely nothing concerning evolution.
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