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Language within the mosaic of social cognition
In spite of high genetic overlap and broadly similar neural organization between humans and non-human primates, humans surpass all other species in their abilities to solve novel problems, in the sophistication of their social and emotional reasoning mechanisms, and in the richness and flexibility of their communication system. How exactly these cognitive capacities evolved in humans remains debated. I will discuss three brain networks that support high-level cognition and the relationship among them: (i) the domain-general Multiple Demand (MD) network that has been linked to general reasoning abilities, novel problem solving, and fluid intelligence, (ii) the domain-specific network that supports social cognition, and iii) the domain-specific network that supports language processing. I will argue that although the three networks are highly neurally dissociable, a stronger relationship holds between the language and the social-cognition networks compared to the relationship between each of these networks and the domain-general MD network. In particular, the language and the social-cognition networks a) show broadly similar topography within the temporal and frontal cortex manifesting as parallel interdigitated networks, b) exhibit reliable synchronization in their activity in naturalistic cognition paradigms, c) pattern together in some developmental and acquired disorders, and d) may be interchangeable in the course of development in the face of extensive early brain damage. I will therefore argue that our sophisticated linguistic mechanisms were parasitic on the social mechanisms rather than on mechanisms that support general fluid general reasoning and abstract hierarchical thought.