The shift from life in water to life on land advantaged planning in visually-guided behavior

Ugurcan Mugan, Malcolm A. MacIver*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Other than formerly land-based mammals such as whales and dolphins that have returned to an aquatic existence, it is uncontroversial that land animals have developed more elaborated cognitive abilities than aquatic animals. Yet there is no apparent a-priori reason for this to be the case. A key cognitive faculty is the ability to plan. Here we provide evidence that in a dynamic visually-guided behavior of crucial evolutionary importance, prey evading a predator, planning provides a significant advantage over habit-based action selection, but only on land. This advantage is dependent on the massive increase in visual range and spatial complexity that greeted the first vertebrates to view the world above the waterline 380 million years ago. Our results have implications for understanding the evolutionary basis of the limited ability of animals, including humans, to think ahead to meet slowly looming and distant threats, toward a neuroscience of sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Mar 22 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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