Visuospatial Integration: Paleoanthropological and Archaeological Perspectives

In Laura Desirèe Di Paolo, Fabio Di Vincenzo & Francesca De Petrillo (eds.), Evolution of Primate Social Cognition. Springer Verlag. pp. 299-326 (2018)
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The visuospatial system integrates inner and outer functional processes, organizing spatial, temporal, and social interactions between the brain, body, and environment. These processes involve sensorimotor networks like the eye–hand circuit, which is especially important to primates, given their reliance on vision and touch as primary sensory modalities and the use of the hands in social and environmental interactions. At the same time, visuospatial cognition is intimately connected with memory, self-awareness, and simulation capacity. In the present article, we review issues associated with investigating visuospatial integration in extinct human groups through the use of anatomical and behavioral data gleaned from the paleontological and archaeological records. In modern humans, paleoneurological analyses have demonstrated noticeable and unique morphological changes in the parietal cortex, a region crucial to visuospatial management. Archaeological data provides information on hand–tool interaction, the spatial behavior of past populations, and their interaction with the environment. Visuospatial integration may represent a critical bridge between extended cognition, self-awareness, and social perception. As such, visuospatial functions are relevant to the hypothesis that human evolution is characterized by changes in brain–body–environment interactions and relations, which enhance integration between internal and external cognitive components through neural plasticity and the development of a specialized embodiment capacity. We therefore advocate the investigation of visuospatial functions in past populations through the paleoneurological study of anatomical elements and archaeological analysis of visuospatial behaviors.

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Karenleigh Anne Overmann
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs


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