In studying spotted hyenas, lions and, most recently, the raccoon family, Sharleen Sakai has found a correlation between the size of the animals’ frontal cortex and their social nature.
In her latest study, Sakai examined the digitally recreated brains of three species in the Procyonid family — the raccoon, the coatimundi and the kinkajou — and found the coatimundi had the largest frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is thought to regulate social interaction, and the coatimundi is by far the most social of the three animals, often living in bands of 20 or more.
Brain size variations in this small family of carnivores appear to be related to differences in behavior including social interaction, Sakai said.
The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is published in the research journal Brain, Behavior and Evolution. Sakai did the most recent study in her neuroscience lab with Bradley Arsznov, a former MSU doctoral student who’s now an assistant professor of psychology at Minnesota State University.