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Brain Evolution Relating to Family, Play, and the Separation Call

Paul D. MacLean, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1985;42(4):405-417. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1985.01790270095011.
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• Mammals stem from the mammal-like reptiles (therapsids) that were widely prevalent in Pangaea 250 million years ago. In the evolutionary transition from reptiles to mammals, three key developments were (1) nursing, in conjunction with maternal care; (2) audiovocal communication for maintaining maternaloffspring contact; and (3) play. The separation call perhaps ranks as the earliest and most basic mammalian vocalization, while play may have functioned originally to promote harmony in the nest. How did such family related behavior develop? In its evolution, the forebrain of advanced mammals has expanded as a triune structure that anatomically and chemically reflects ancestral commonalities with reptiles, early mammals, and late mammals. Recent findings suggest that the development of the behavioral triad in question may have depended on the evolution of the thalamocingulate division of the limbic system, a derivative from early mammals. The thalamocingulate division (which has no distinctive counterpart in the reptilian brain) is, in turn, geared in with the prefrontal neocortex that, in human beings, may be inferred to play a key role in familial acculturation.


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