P. Thomas Schoenemann, Ph.D.




HEB lab


The Human Brain Evolution Lab pursues research focused on understanding the evolution of brain and behavior, particularly in hominins. We use image processing techniques to quantify aspects of brain and endocranial morphology on MRI or CT scans. This is used to assess morphological evolution in humans an primates, as well as associations between morphological variation and behavioral dimensions of evolutionary interest, such as language, social skills, tool use and ability, spatial ability, and other cognitive abilities. More details may be found at the lab website, but some representative research projects are described below




Current research:


chimp-human morph

Comparative studies of brain morphology among primates using voxel-based morphometric techniques borrowed from functional imaging



chimp-human-endocast morph

Comparison of ape and human endocranial morphology on a voxel-by-voxel basis using CT-derived virtual endocasts, and assessments of correlations with behavioral dimentions of interest (such as social group size, tool use, vocalization repertoire size)



Associations between brain morphology and behavioral variability in healthy subjects using MRI voxel-based morphometric methods


Left-right asymmetry of healthy human brains, with special focus on language areas


How well does the endocranial surface actually predict brain morphology?




average human endocranial shape

Cranial Atlases Project: Constructing 3D atlases describing the average shape (and variation at each point) of human and non-human crania. This is essential for evolutionary comparative studies, which typically use highly idiosyncratic samples for comparative purposes. It is now possible to create comparative samples from very large datasets (e.g., from the Open Research Scan Archive, see below). Such atlases would allow researchers to map exactly where and how a fossil fragment is different from existing morphological variability in modern apes and humans in 3D, and calculate statistical tests of the degree of fit.


CT of chimp skullCT of human skullCT of child skull

In addtion to these projects, the lab houses a copy of the Open Research Scan Archive (ORSA), which obtains over 4,000 high-resolution CT's of crania and postcrania of humans and other primates, from a variety of institutions, and makes them available for free to researchers worldwide. The archive contains over 250 CT scans of children ranging in age from 8 fetal months to 16 years of age. The rendered CT images are useful in many areas of research. Volume, linear, and area measurements are all possible as well as many methods that allow comparison of specimens to each other.