Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.


Big brains explained

The expensive-tissue hypothesis proposes that brain enlargement during human evolution was offset by a reduced gut size. The finding that the typical trade-off in mammals is between brain size and fat reserves suggests otherwise. See Letter p.91

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Human brain expansion.


  1. Navarrete, A., van Schaik, C. P. & Isler, K. Nature 480, 91–93 (2011).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Aiello, L. C. & Wheeler, P. Curr. Anthropol. 36, 199–221 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Holloway, R. L., Broadfield, D. C. & Yuan, M. S. The Human Fossil Record Vol. 3 (Wiley, 2004).

  4. Falk, D. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 2513–2518 (2007).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Carlson, K. J. et al. Science 333, 1402–1407 (2011).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Richard Potts.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Potts, R. Big brains explained. Nature 480, 43–44 (2011).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing