Contributions of Lower Structures to Higher Cognition: Towards a Dynamic Network Model

William Saban, Shai Gabay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Researchers often attribute higher cognition to the enlargement of cortical regions throughout evolution, reflecting the belief that humans sit at the top of the cognitive pyramid. Implicitly, this approach assumes that the subcortex is of secondary importance for higher-order cognition. While it is now recognized that subcortical regions can be involved in various cognitive domains, it remains unclear how they contribute to computations essential for higher-level cognitive processes such as endogenous attention and numerical cognition. Herein, we identify three models of subcortical–cortical relations in these cognitive processes: (i) subcortical regions are not involved in higher cognition; (ii) subcortical computations support elemental forms of higher cognition mainly in species without a developed cortex; and (iii) higher cognition depends on a whole-brain dynamic network, requiring integrated cortical and subcortical computations. Based on evolutionary theories and recent data, we propose the SEED hypothesis: the Subcortex is Essential for the Early Development of higher cognition. According to the five principles of the SEED hypothesis, subcortical computations are essential for the emergence of cognitive abilities that enable organisms to adapt to an ever-changing environment. We examine the implications of the SEED hypothesis from a multidisciplinary perspective to understand how the subcortex contributes to various forms of higher cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121
JournalJournal of Intelligence
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • SEED hypothesis
  • attention
  • dynamic network
  • evolution
  • higher cognition
  • numerical cognition
  • subcortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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