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The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Credit: Wikimedia Commons. 
The more you empathize with the world, the more you feel its joy and pain, but too much can lead to overload.
One of my interests is affective empathy, the involuntary desire not only to understand another person's emotional state but also to make it one's own—in short, to feel the pain and joy of other people. This mental trait has a heritability of 68% and is normally distributed along a bell curve within any one population... Read More
Un homme et une femme, 1891, Stephan Sinding (1846-1922). Almost as fun as sex.  Credit: Wikimedia Commons
All humans love to kiss, so kissing must go back to early hominids and even chimps and bonobos. This is how ethologists and evolutionary psychologists think when they write about the subject. Just one thing. Even in historic times not all humans loved to kiss. Far from arising millions of years in the past, kissing... Read More
Mary Magdalene, Frederick Sandys (1829-1904). Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Is the physical appearance of Europeans solely or even mainly an adaptation to climate?
Most humans have black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin. Europeans are different: their hair is also brown, flaxen, golden, or red, their eyes also blue, gray, hazel, or green, and their skin pale, almost like an albino's. This is particularly the case in northern and eastern Europeans. How did this color scheme come about?... Read More
Geographic prevalence of the new allele for blond hair (Guenther et al., 2014). Just one of many alleles that create the European palette of hair and eye colors. There is a widespread belief that whatever made Europeans fair-skinned also gave them their unique palette of hair and eye colors. In reality, fair skin has only... Read More
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The physical appearance of Europeans seems to result from a selection pressure that acted primarily on women and only secondarily on men. This is especially true for highly visible traits on or near the face—the focus of visual attention. I have just published a paper on "The puzzle of European hair, eye, and skin color."... Read More
T?t?roaice – Petre Iorgulescu-Yor (source). Today, the steppes north of the Black Sea lie within the European world—politically, culturally, and demographically. Not so long ago, they were home to nomads of Central Asian origin. A new study shows that Europeans underwent strong selection for white skin, non-brown eyes, and non-black hair … during historic times!... Read More
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PISA test documents at a German school (source: Theo Müller). PISA and IQ tests are informing us about differences in intellectual capacity by country. Meanwhile, genetic studies are informing us about genomic differences by country. Davide Piffer has been tapping into these two pools of data to explore the links between genes and intellectual capacity.... Read More
Inuit meat cache, Kazan River (source: Library and Archives Canada / PA-101294). Because of their high meat diet, hunters produce more body heat than farmers do. Natural selection has thus favored certain mtDNA sequences over others in humans with this profile of heat production. A change in selection pressure may therefore explain, at least in... Read More
Ethiopian manuscript paintings (source: A. Davey). Ethiopians have a self-image that is lighter-skinned than their actual selves. If the prevalence of SLC24A5 is higher in Ethiopia than the degree of admixture from lighter-skinned peoples across the Red Sea, this discrepancy may be explained by social selection for lighter skin. Greg Cochran has been asking why... Read More
Eyed sewing needles from Ice Age Europe (17,000 to 10,000 BP). (source: Didier Descouens) As early modern humans spread farther north, they entered more challenging environments. This was particularly so when they left the boreal forests and entered the open steppe-tundra that covered much of northern Eurasia. Food was plentiful but largely took the form... Read More
Venus of Willendorf (30,000 – 27,000 BP). Is that a special headdress … or peppercorn hair? (source: Matthias Kabel) Europeans already had blue eyes while still hunter-gatherers. This is what we’ve learned after retrieving ancient DNA from two Mesolithic individuals, one from Luxembourg, dated to 8,000 years ago, and another from Spain, dated to 7,000... Read More
When did early Europeans acquire their palette of eye colors? And their palette of hair colors? That question may soon be answered with retrieval of ancient DNA. (source: Dipoar) As the new year begins, I’m particularly interested in the following topics. When did Europeans begin to look European? It seems that this evolution took place... Read More
Venus of Mal’ta, a figurine from a site in eastern Siberia (source). She comes from a population that was related to modern Europeans and Amerindians but not to modern native Siberians. The Mal’ta Siberians died out at the height of the last ice age and were replaced by people spreading north from East Asia and... Read More
Inheritance of eye color doesn’t follow a simple Mendelian model. Although the blue-eye allele (C) is less dominant than the brown-eye allele (T), CT heterozygotes aren’t necessarily brown-eyed and CC homozygotes aren’t necessarily blue-eyed. Even TT homozygotes are sometimes blue-eyed. There is also a sex difference, with women having a more diverse palette of eye... Read More
John Locke: “every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer […] such men are not under the ties of the common law of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey (source of picture) The last millennium... Read More
Of all humans, male and female, European women have the whitest skin and the most diverse range of hair and eye colors. Are European physical characteristics really female characteristics? (source) People of European origin have an unusually diverse palette of hair and eye colors. This diversity is commonly ascribed to their unusually white skin. Ancestral... Read More
Nelson Mandela shakes hands with Frederik de Klerk, 1992. Antiracist iconography is focused on past struggles, like the fight against apartheid. Yet the world is now a very different place (source). After five centuries of growth, the European world is contracting, and this contraction is visible not only overseas—in Johannesburg, Sydney, and New York—but also... Read More
Genetic data suggest that ancestral East Asians diverged from ancestral Europeans long after the African/non-African split (source). This timeline, however, seems to be challenged by archaic DNA that is reputed to be 40,000 years old. When did the ancestors of Europeans and East Asians part company? In my opinion, the divergence must have happened long... Read More
Averaged face of blue-eyed male subjects (left). Averaged face of brown-eyed male subjects (right). Czech population. (Kleisner et al., 2010) Karel Kleisner’s team is continuing its work on eye color, face shape, and perceived personality traits: We tested whether eye color influences perception of trustworthiness. Facial photographs of 40 female and 40 male students were... Read More
Homicide rates in England, 1200-2000 (Eisner, 2001) States seek to pacify their territories by monopolizing the use of violence. With each passing generation, violent individuals are ostracized, imprisoned, or executed, their predispositions being thereby selected out of the gene pool. Has this “genetic pacification” made longtime State societies kinder and gentler places to live in?... Read More
Did the end of the Middle Ages bring a rapid shift to individualism in English society? Or was something already going on beforehand? For most of human history and prehistory, our lives were based on kinship—economically, socially and even spiritually. Kinship determined who provided whom with the basics of life: food, shelter, and clothing. And... Read More
Tanned arm (source). Underarm skin color used to be a reliable measure of constitutive pigmentation (skin color before tanning). Is it still? After puberty, girls become lighter-skinned than boys. This sexual differentiation has been shown to be hormonal in origin by a digit ratio study (Manning, Bundred, and Mather, 2004), by studies on normal, castrated,... Read More
The lithic technology of southwestern France (c. 22,000-17,000 BP) strangely resembles that of the first paleo-Amerindians (c. 12,000). Some people speculate that early Europeans reached North America by crossing the Atlantic. The truth is even more incredible. Early Europeans spread eastward and became the ancestors not only of the Amerindians but also of East Asians.... Read More
No, that’s not a climatic adaptation (actress Lily Cole - source) “European skin turned pale only recently”—such was the headline in Science five years ago. The report had been presented by a postdoc, Heather Norton, at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (Norton & Hammer, 2007). Over the following years, I... Read More
Do older fathers have dumber children? For the past millennium, paternal age has been relatively high in Europe west of the Hajnal line. Yet, if anything, mean IQ is higher there than elsewhere. H/T to JayMan (source) Greg Cochran has been running a series of posts on paternal age and IQ (here, here, and here).... Read More
Cover page of American Conservative, a megaphone for dubious science? (source) My comments on Ron Unz’s article “Race, IQ, and Wealth” have led to further exchanges between myself and Ron. There seem to be two sticking points: Ron is more like a military strategist than an academic. In other words, the goal is already decided... Read More
Former juvenile detention center in Torgau, East Germany. Was truancy treated the same way in West Germany and the DDR? (source) Ron Unz has come out with an article on “Race, IQ, and Wealth” in the latest issue of the American Conservative. He had earlier sent me a draft copy and asked for my comments.... Read More
The ‘hot’ hair color this year (source). While there seems to be a general trend to prefer average physical characteristics, this doesn’t seem to apply to hair color. People seek colors that are uncommon or even unnatural. Europeans have departed from the species norm of black hair and brown eyes by evolving a wide range... Read More
Gilbert Blythe tormenting Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) Male preference for female hair color seems to be frequency-dependent. The less common a hair color becomes, the more it is preferred. When male subjects are presented with a series of photos showing blondes and brunettes, preference for any one brunette is inversely proportional to the... Read More
Hair and eye color diversity is unusual in two ways. It’s confined to Europeans. And it seems to be linked to prenatal feminization. Europeans are distinguished from other humans by a diverse palette of eye and hair colors. I’ve argued that these color traits arose from intense sexual selection of women in ancestral European environments... Read More
Spread of farming in Europe. Cultural diffusion or population replacement? Source Between 9,000 and 3,000 years ago farming spread through Europe and replaced hunting, fishing, and gathering. Was this process just a change in lifestyle? Or was it also a population change? Did Middle Eastern farmers replace native Europeans? For Greg Cochran, the answer is... Read More
The ‘Hajnal line’ marks the eastern limit of a longstanding pattern of late and non-universal marriage. The line in red is Hajnal's. The dark blue lines show areas of high nuptiality West of the Hajnal line. Source In the 17th and 18th centuries, settlers emigrated from land-poor France to land-rich Canada. The result was a... Read More
Although blue eyes are more recessive than brown eyes, eye color does not follow a simple recessive/dominant mode of inheritance. There is a wide range of intermediate hues. As discussed in my last post, one puzzle of human evolution is the diverse palette of European hair and eye colors. Although these two polymorphisms have largely... Read More
Modern humans changed little when they initially spread out of Africa and into the Middle East. Real change occurred farther north, when they entered seasonally varying environments that differed much more even in summer. Three years ago, a research team led by John Hawks found that the rate of genetic change accelerated once ancestral humans... Read More
Spread of farming in Europe. Der Spiegel This recent Der Spiegel article has stirred up comment in the blogosphere (Hawks 2010, Khan 2010, Sailer 2010). It argues that Europeans do not descend from the reindeer hunters who once roamed the continent during the last ice age. Nor do they descend from the more recent hunter-fisher-gatherers... Read More
Medieval (?) ice cellar for meat storage (Sweden). Link: runlama In northern climates, the yearly cycle of changing temperatures encouraged humans to think ahead to the next season. My last post mentioned the debate over the provenance of present-day Europeans. Do they descend from the hunter-gatherers of Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic Europe? Or were those... Read More
How long have Europeans been in Europe? Clearly, their ancestors were not Neanderthals, except for an admixture of 1 to 4%. What about the modern humans who came about 35,000 years ago as hunter-gatherers? Or did they too die out? Were they replaced by Middle-Eastern farmers some 9,000 to 3,000 years ago? This is an... Read More
Above - Artist's reconstruction of pre-Viking Age boat Below – Prehistoric rock paintings of boats (Scandinavia) Some writers argue that European skin became white to offset a decline in dietary vitamin D. Pre-agricultural diets, however, were rich in vitamin D only among coastal Europeans who consumed fatty fish. The ‘vitamin D hypothesis’ is often invoked... Read More
With the onset of the glacial maximum c. 20,000 years ago, and the ponding up of the Ob River, humans circulated less easily from one end of the steppe-tundra belt to the other. This barrier separated ancestral Europeans from ancestral East Asians. Outside Africa, people seem to have the same amount of Neanderthal admixture, be... Read More
This year, look for advances in the following areas: Brain growth genes Back in 2005, it was found that human populations vary considerably at two genes, ASPM and microcephalin, that control the growth of brain tissue. The finding seemed to be ‘huge’ in its implications. Then, it all fizzled out. No correlation could be found... Read More
Before I make my predictions for 2010, let me review the ones I made for 2009: The Neanderthal genome will be fully sequenced. There will be no evidence of interbreeding with modern humans (although proponents of the multiregional model will remain unconvinced). By comparing this genome with ours, we may reconstruct the genome of archaic... Read More
Dienekes is arguing that Middle Eastern farmers demographically replaced Europe’s original population between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago. This argument seems to be proven by two recent papers that show no genetic continuity between Europe’s late hunter-gatherers and early farmers. The continent’s current gene pool seems to owe very little to the original Upper Paleolithic... Read More
I have argued that sexual selection has varied within our species in both intensity and direction (men selecting women or women selecting men) (Frost, 2006; Frost, 2008). In particular, it seems to have varied along a north-south gradient with men being more strongly selected in the tropical zone and women in the temperate and arctic... Read More
The human mind seems to use facial color to determine whether a person is male or female. A man has a relatively dark facial color that contrasts poorly with his lip and eye color. Conversely, a woman has a relatively light facial color that contrasts sharply with her lip and eye color (Russell, 2003; Russell,... Read More
How did archaic humans evolve into the different populations of Homo sapiens we see today? The answer has long divided anthropologists. Some opt for the ‘out-of-Africa’ model; others for the multiregional model. According to the out-of-Africa model, we all descend from a small group that existed some 100,000 to 80,000 years ago somewhere in eastern... Read More
What did the first modern humans in Europe look like? The question comes up in a BBC2 series The Incredible Human Journey, which shows the reconstructed head of a man who lived in the Carpathian Mountains some 35,000 years ago. With its brown skin and broad nose, this ‘First European’ looks, well, very un-European. The... Read More