The Evolution of Minds: 325 million years of intelligence studied with neuroscience, cognitive zoology and palaeontology

Project: Research

Project Details


Cognition separates animals from all other forms of life. Although cognition is the essence of our existence, we know little about it. Compared to other aspects of biology, we know exceedingly less about cognition, and about how the minds of today’s animals emerged from 325+ million years of evolution.

Largely, this is because of barriers between cognitive zoologists and neurologists who study extant animals and palaeontologists who study fossils. In this project, for the first time, we combine expertise in cognition, neuroanatomy, and palaeontology to illuminate the evolution of cognition and its neural substrate in one of the major branches of the tree of life: the reptilian lineage, including crocodiles, dinosaurs, and their bird descendants. We will assess the number of neurons and glial cells in the brains in an array of species from all major lineages of reptiles and birds. We will do comparative cognitive tests on key species representing these lineages. We will study correlations between brain anatomy and brain information processing across reptiles and birds. We will use high-resolution computed tomography to reconstruct brains from fossil reptiles, with focus on basal groups and dinosaurs. Then we merge the data to reconstruct the evolution of cognition, test key hypotheses about when and how brain information processing evolved, predict cognitive abilities of extinct species, and assess how cognition may have driven the transition between dinosaurs and birds.
Short titleDeep time cognition
Effective start/end date2022/01/012027/12/31

Collaborative partners

  • Lund University (lead)
  • Ohio University
  • Charles University in Prague
  • University of Edinburgh

Free keywords

  • cognitive evolution
  • dinosaur behaviour
  • brain evolution
  • dinosaur brains