“Theory of food” as a neurocognitive adaptation

Authors

  • John S. Allen

    Corresponding author
    1. Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center, Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089-1061
    • Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center, Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061, United States
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Abstract

Human adult cognition emerges over the course of development via the interaction of multiple critical neurocognitive networks. These networks evolved in response to various selection pressures, many of which were modified or intensified by the intellectual, technological, and sociocultural environments that arose in connection with the evolution of genus Homo. Networks related to language and theory of mind clearly play an important role in adult cognition. Given the critical importance of food to both basic survival and cultural interaction, a “theory of food” (analogous to theory of mind) may represent another complex network essential for normal cognition. I propose that theory of food evolved as an internal, cognitive representation of our diets in our minds. Like other complex cognitive abilities, it relies on complex and overlapping dedicated neural networks that develop in childhood under familial and cultural influences. Normative diets are analogous to first languages in that they are acquired without overt teaching; they are also difficult to change or modify once a critical period in development is passed. Theory of food suggests that cognitive activities related to food may be cognitive enhancers, which could have implications for maintaining healthy brain function in aging. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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