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Have you ever wondered why humans stand on two legs and what difference that might have made to how our brains evolved?

That was the question Mac and Rick Shine asked themselves while watching the youngest Shine, two-year-old Tyler take his first steps. They noted how at first every step required Tyler’s extreme concentration, but before long he was happily walking and running. Standing up and moving had become routine. His brain had made the massive switch from mastering balance to then automating the behaviour so as to free up his brain to deal with other potential challenges such as not tripping up on the carpet or stray toys.

This, according to the Shines is what may have made the fundamental difference to our cerebral development. Moving from being a quadruped to a biped took a huge evolutionary shift in how we used our brain.

Any complex task that we learn; from walking, to learning a musical instrument to driving a car will initially require our full attention until we have mastered the technique. By then shifting those learned skills to those centres concerned with automatic behaviour, our basal ganglia and cerebellum, we then free up our prefrontal cortex, our “thinking brain” to be available to anything else new in our environment.

According to the Shines, this explains how the human brain was able to evolve to be as smart as it is and what differentiates us from other species. It certainly provides food for thought as to why humans have become a dominant force on this planet.

“Delegation to automaticity: the driving force for cognitive evolution?” by J. M. Shine and R. Shine in Frontiers in Neuroscience. Published online April 29 2014 doi:10.3389/fnins.2014.00090

Photo Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/73399533@N00/2089207697/”>visionsbycat<

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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