A comparative perspective on the human temporal lobe
The temporal lobe is a morphological specialization of primates resulting from an expansion of higher-order visual cortex that is a hallmark of the primate brain. Among primates, humans possess a temporal lobe that has significantly expanded. Several uniquely human cognitive abilities, including language comprehension, semantic memory, and aspects of conceptual processing, are represented in the temporal lobe. Understanding how the temporal lobe has been modified and reorganized in the human lineage is crucial to understanding how it supports human cognitive specializations. Identifying these structural modifications requires a direct comparison with other primates, with special attention to our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. Comparative examination of data from architectonics, tract tracing, and newer imaging methodologies suggests modifications to external morphology (gyri and sulci), preferential expansion of association areas, and elaboration of white matter fasciculi, distinguishing the human temporal lobe from those of Old World monkeys. Chimpanzees and humans share some of these features of cortical expansion, although more research is needed in order to elucidate whether humans possess simply a large hominoid temporal lobe or whether important reorganization has happened since our divergence from chimpanzees.