Superior pattern processing is the essence of the evolved human brain

Mark P. Mattson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Humans have long pondered the nature of their mind/brain and, particularly why its capacities for reasoning, communication and abstract thought are far superior to other species, including closely related anthropoids. This article considers superior pattern processing (SPP) as the fundamental basis of most, if not all, unique features of the human brain including intelligence, language, imagination, invention, and the belief in imaginary entities such as ghosts and gods. SPP involves the electrochemical, neuronal network-based, encoding, integration, and transfer to other individuals of perceived or mentally-fabricated patterns. During human evolution, pattern processing capabilities became increasingly sophisticated as the result of expansion of the cerebral cortex, particularly the prefrontal cortex and regions involved in processing of images. Specific patterns, real or imagined, are reinforced by emotional experiences, indoctrination and even psychedelic drugs. Impaired or dysregulated SPP is fundamental to cognitive and psychiatric disorders. A broader understanding of SPP mechanisms, and their roles in normal and abnormal function of the human brain, may enable the development of interventions that reduce irrational decisions and destructive behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 265
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue number8 AUG
StatePublished - 2014


  • Evolution
  • Hippocampus
  • Language disorders
  • Neuronal network
  • Religion and science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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