Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas (2019-2023)

Integrative Human Historical Science of "Out of Eurasia"
Exploring the Mechanisms of the Development of Civilization


B02 Neurobiological mechanisms of cognitive niche construction


Principal Investigator
Atsushi Iriki (RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research)
Hideaki Kawabata (Faculty of Letters, Keio University)
Jun Saiki (Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies,
Kyoto University)
Aya Saito (Institute of Philosophy & Human Values, Kyoto University of the Arts)
Yoshiyuki Ueda (Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University)
Yumiko Yamasaki (RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research)
Shinya Yamamoto (Institute for Advanced Study, Kyoto University)

Research outline

"Living organisms modify their environment, which in turn affects the evolution of the next generation and beyond." This is our principal stance on the formation of human civilization, extrapolated from the concept of "niche construction". The purpose of this group’s projects is to clarify the neurobiological driving principle of human evolution, based on the hypothesis of the “Triadic Niche Construction”, that is, interactions among environmental, cognitive, and brain/neural niches. The phenomena will be initially reduced into four dimensions as below for analyses by each sub-group, and thereafter will be integrated as a whole to capture the overall view of the neurobiological driving principle. It is assumed that 1) The driving principle is fundamentally composed of basic biological characteristics of the human brain as a primate brain (Iriki group), and 2) It is expressed through the interactions among the bodily and cognitive functions with the surrounding environment (Kawabata group), where 3) Its progress should be detected through the transitions of the behavioral patterns along the time course of postnatal development and evolutionary history (Saito group), and eventually 4) Human cognitive traits would be represented as spatial patterns across the spectrum of global cultures which could be illustrated as the “cognitive world map” (Saiki group).

The mental mechanisms of how humans perceive artificial architecture and artifacts will be central to the whole scheme throughout this group’s projects. This is due to the understanding that there are various kinds of tools that humans create and use as mediators to bridge the above four dimensions, and information mediated by those artifacts/tools are materialized by using them or embedding them in the environment. In order to explore the dynamics between the physical external environment and the internal mind and the body through tool-use, we will promote integrated research in collaboration with the above four sub-groups, and also with the A01-A03, B01, and B03 groups of this project, thereby conducting research and experiments to empirically capture the interrelationships of how the mind, brain, and body change through the production and behavioral experiences of the usages of such tools. And finally, by collaborating with the C01 model group on the data obtained by collaborations with these groups, we will aim to create a comprehensive quantitative mathematical theory covering interactions among genetic-, neural-, social-, and cultural information. Through this project, we eventually aim to establish a comprehensive academic research field from a new perspective based on the triadic niche construction model.

"Triadic Niche Construction” hypothesis