A growing body of research from Michigan State University reveals that the region of the brain that makes humans and primates social creatures may play a similar role in carnivores. Sharleen Sakai, professor of neuroscience, has studied spotted hyenas, lions, and most recently the raccoon family to find a correlation between the size of the animals’ frontal cortex and their social nature.
The current study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Evolution, examined the digitally recreated brains of three species in the Procyonid family – the raccoon, the coatimundi and the kinkajou. The researchers found that the coatimundi had the largest frontal cortex of the three. This bears out the belief that the frontal cortex regulates social interaction, as the coatimundi is by far the most social of the three animals, often living in bands of 20 or more.
“Most neuroscience research that looks at how brains evolve has focused primarily on primates, so nobody really knows what the frontal cortex in a carnivore does,” said Sakai, professor of psychology. “These findings suggest the frontal cortex is processing social information in carnivores perhaps similar to what we’ve seen in monkeys and humans.”