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Researchers Say Dark Winters Led To Bigger Human Brains 167

Posted by samzenpus
from the head-in-the-clouds dept.
Brad1138 writes "Humans living at high latitude have bigger eyes and bigger brains to cope with poor light during long winters and cloudy days, UK scientists have said. from the article: 'The scientists measured the eye sockets and brain volumes of 55 skulls from 12 populations across the world, and plotted the results against latitude. Lead author Eiluned Pearce told BBC News: "We found a positive relationship between absolute latitude and both eye socket size and cranial capacity."'"
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Researchers Say Dark Winters Led To Bigger Human Brains

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  • Yah know, if we keep finding variations, we're gonna have to take another look at our "primate ancestors".
    • Well, we've looked at practically every Ape species that we could find, because we're land mammals and we have access to, well, land. If you want to find surprises, I'd look to the oceans. Do we really know every "variant" of dolphins? What about whales? We judge intelligence by how *like us* species are, which means (among other things) that we want to see them using tools. Who's to say there aren't several whale "languages" (there probably are), or that dolphins don't "discuss" hunting tactics.

      I'm tempe
      • If you look at northern Europeans (like me), it's easy to see we are decended from Neanderthals [independent.co.uk]. Where do you think the white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, and huge noses came from? Duh. The stupid white Neanderthals mated with super-smart blacks from Africa, creating the modern race of whites.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If whales and dolphins are so intelligent, then why are they easily fished by the Japanese?
        You'd think their advanced tactics would help them. At least to flee to the shores of a country where people don't eat them for breakfast.
        If we could conclude they are intelligent, then it would mean they want to be eaten.

        • by wdef (1050680)
          You could say the same about Tibetan Buddhists refusing to use armed insurrection against the Chinese. Can you say the Dalai Lama is not intelligent?
    • No No... This makes sense... Stay with me, but the climate is warming, right? Regardless what you think about why. And I've notices that people seems to be getting stupider and stupider...
      • by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @08:52PM (#36903118)

        Global warming affects the temperature, not the length of night.

        Do you by any chance live near the equator? ;)

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        No No... This makes sense... Stay with me, but the climate is warming, right? Regardless what you think about why. And I've notices that people seems to be getting stupider and stupider...

        Right, right, and successful high-seas piracy requires intelligence and so rising global stupid leads to a decline in global pirates, which we already know is what causes the rising global temperature. It's a big feedback loop.

    • What ancestors? God created man. Says so in the Holy King James Bible. Prepare yourself for Hell, for all eternity sinner. And may the Almighty G-d send all your family there with you so your suffering and be more complete watching them suffer eternal damnation and pain.
  • I wonder what the relevence is in regards to intelligence.
    • by shking (125052) <babulicm@cuu[ ]b.ca ['g.a' in gap]> on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:29PM (#36902476) Homepage
      RTFA "The Oxford University team said bigger brains did not make people smarter. Larger vision processing areas fill the extra capacity, they write in the Royal Society's Biology Letters journal."
      • The Oxford University team said bigger brains did not make people smarter

        I don't need large brains to have a good time!

      • by XanC (644172)

        How do they know a) that it's entirely vision processing that takes the extra space (the idea of there being specialized areas of the brain is coming into disrepute, I understand) and b) that that has no effect on intelligence?

        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @08:56PM (#36903148) Homepage

          the idea of there being specialized areas of the brain is coming into disrepute,

          No. There clearly are areas of specialized cortex, the visual cortex being one. That doesn't mean that other parts of the brain aren't involved in visual processing (for example). The trivial example of this is the homunculus [wikimedia.org]. If you damage a particular area in the motor or sensory cortex, you will see the effects of that damage in very specific regions of the body.

          Size of a particular region isn't necessarily correlated with the level or degree of function and lots of other things happen in various regions of the brain.[Long complex discussion on how the brain works. Lots of handwaving.]

          I'm not sure where you picked up that concept, but it's not correct, unless I'm not understanding what you meant to say.

          • by teslar (706653)

            I'm not sure where you picked up that concept, but it's not correct, unless I'm not understanding what you meant to say.

            I think he may at least in part be referring to things like language processing. People used to point at Broca's area, draw some arrows to Wernicke's area and there ya go, here's yer language bits. Only now we know that's not really true and that language processing seems to involve, for instance, sensorimotor areas of the brain too.

            So while you're certainly correct when it comes to sensor

            • Could be. It's obviously very, very complicated. And you're correct - the specific areas of motor cortex (again, for example) are necessary but not entirely sufficient for complex motor skills.

              We're getting there in determining how the brain is wired. Whether any one human can actually understand it is certainly up for debate.
        • You're pretty close to the target with that. I read this article earlier today, before it hit slashdot. In effect, they measured the skulls of people who have been dead for 200 years. They did NOT measure the brains, the lobes of the brain, or anything to do with the brain, other than skull capacity. Skull capacity may be an indicator of anything, or nothing.

          Now, if they had evaluated brains, they may or may not have arrived at meaningful conclusions. Corpses aren't a rare commodity, after all. Fresh c

          • by fbjon (692006)
            Cats have a different eye structure geared toward night vision, while humans do not. Extra brain mass might be required for better night vision given the same basic eye design.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fche (36607)

        It must be quite a trick, estimating how those larger brains must have been structured, considering they're ... entirely decayed by now. Their paper http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/07/12/rsbl.2011.0570.full [royalsocie...ishing.org] doesn't appear to substantiate it either. Where exactly did the BBC get that quote?

        • Best guess, they're likely taking existing brains (in today's humans) and scaling down to fir the skulls. Given that you can reconstruct *most* of the outer shape from the cranial cavity, it's not a bad initial assumption to make.

          OTOH, while it's not too awful likely that a given 'duty' of a set of brain cells shifts all that radically, I do agree with you to an extent.

      • by andydread (758754)
        This should prove interesting for those with this mutation who end up being blind. As we know the parts of the brain that loses its stimuli is basically re-purposed for another task and if there is more of this matter to be re-purposed then it should be rather interesting.
      • TFA was down when I was trying to read.
      • by NFN_NLN (633283)

        This research would imply that the further south you live in the US the less intelligent you were. So I did a quick Google search for "dumb american southerners"... turns out there is strong anecdotal evidence! Where's my research grant.

      • by BitterOak (537666)

        RTFA "The Oxford University team said bigger brains did not make people smarter. Larger vision processing areas fill the extra capacity, they write in the Royal Society's Biology Letters journal."

        But just as computers with very fast GPUs can have those GPUs put to other uses, thereby increasing the computer's overall processing power, isn't it reasonable to assume the same is true with the visual processing areas of the brain?

    • If this was an xkcd it would be obligatory, but it's smbc, so I don't think it counts...
      http://smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=001#comic [smbc-comics.com]

  • Santa (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:25PM (#36902456)

    So Santa Claus has the biggest brain of all ?

  • have bigger eyes and bigger brains to cope with poor light during long winters and cloudy days,

    So the decedents of Slashdotters could develop larger eyes and brains? Hmm.

  • 55 skulls?!?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by snookerhog (1835110) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:30PM (#36902482)
    now there is a quality sample size that you can draw quality conclusions from. That is some experimental rigor to be proud of!
  • Cold didn't have to *lead* to anything. Using the word "Led" in the title is misleading because it suggests a causal link. For all we know, having bigger brains made people leave hotter areas because they felt uncomfortable (I know I feel REALLY bad when it's hot, and I have a HUGE brain) or were more adventurous and sought to live in new areas.
  • by StefanJ (88986) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:39PM (#36902560) Homepage Journal

    . . . the Morlocks. They may be ugly anthropophages, but I figured they'd have to be smarter than the Eloi, and got to play with ancient machinery to boot.

    • by wall0159 (881759)

      Who said anything about "smarter"? There is not an established concrete relationship between brain size and intelligence in humans.

      In fact, FTFA:
      "The Oxford University team said bigger brains did not make people smarter."

  • by blair1q (305137) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:41PM (#36902590) Journal

    But they just said it was due to sports [wired.com].

    So, which is it?

  • racist (Score:1, Troll)

    by frovingslosh (582462)
    What an awful racist thing to say. Those of us with larger brains can clearly understand the implications of this, and it is pure racist. It must not be said. It doesn't matter that it is completely true.
  • ... by peer review. Conclusion is remarkably reminiscent of "scientific" bases for racist conclusions so prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th century social sciences.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      The conclusion isn't necessarily any less reliable than any other peer reviewed paper, in fact I'd wager that this one is likely more reliable as a paper like this could easily end careers if the science isn't there.

      This isn't any more racist than the observation that people from closer to the equator handle sunburn more effectively than those of us from the higher latitudes.

  • by dindinx (24418)

    "Winter is coming" could really be a good news?

  • smarter. I think the evidence would support that gene diversity is the best way to ensure survival. *cough* says the man from Ireland *cough*
  • Probably the cold weather just led to a lot more cuddling. And, naturally the cuddling led to a lot more - you know - whoopee.

    So, apparently sex is good for your brain.

  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @08:30PM (#36902950)
    TFA is all wrong! People near the equator have the smaller next generation iBrains with better eye sockets that aren't available yet in the northern markets.
  • ...is to confirm the theory by searching for fossil chibis in Antarctica.

  • Does their study take into account the recent observation that us northern people are more likely to have Neanderthal DNA and that that could at least be part of the reason for larger brains?
  • I, for one, would like to welcome our super intelligent Eskimo overlords! (And troglodytes and blind people and habitual sunglass wearers and squinty eyed folk).

  • We'd have a lot of posters using flippers.

  • Bigger eyes for lower light at northern latitudes? OK. But bigger brains because of lower light during winter? I don't buy it. However there's a theory [scientificamerican.com] that we lost our body hair because it allowed us to keep shed excess heat more easily, which allowed us to grow larger brains than our hirsute ape cousins because big brains generate a lot of heat. So it's more likely that humans at northern latitude had bigger brains because, just as with the evolution of naked skin, the cooler weather made it easier to ke
    • So similar to noses specifically nostrils then. Larger ones act as a heat sink and aid in cooling so typically people from a more equatorial area have larger nostrils. Skin pigment is one that seems somewhat backwards at first since darker skin would absorb more heat, but I guess it was better to have the additional sunburn protection at lower latitudes and the better frost bit protection at higher latitudes. These were all things I got from a human evolution course I took in college.
  • What if, like me, early men of northern latitudes were just attracted to doe-eyed girls with big brains?

  • I am sick and tired of this kind of "research" that late Richard Feynman used to call "cargo cult science". Surviving in the North generally required more cognitive processing due to variety of factors like cold temperatures (one needs to invent cloth), scarcity of food (better hunting techniques, advanced social skills). Less light might affect eye sight but I think it is a minor factor when it comes to brain size. To summarize, living in the North did affect brain size and cognitive development but it is
  • In the Arctic calories are king. The human skull is more or less spherical, and since it takes energy to keep the brain warm, increasing the circumference of the cranium will serve to decrease the surface area to warm mass ratio. Keep in mind that having a greater brain mass does not equate to greater intelligence, but it does certainly does permit the development of greater functionality through greater volume. Organization of that extra brain mass counts more. On the other hand, in Arctic conditions there
  • "We found a positive relationship between absolute latitude and both eye socket size and cranial capacity."

    Pretty much every physical measurement of every land animal is positively correlated with absolute latitude. This is because the mean temperature is negatively correlated with distance from the equator, and larger body size is adaptive at colder temperatures. A larger body has relatively smaller heat losses, and thus a more stable temperature. This doesn't matter much in the tropics (except at high altitudes), but it can be important when you get to areas with serious cold seasons.

    You can find this as

  • taking place a long time before humans living at high latitude finally learned how to produce - and consume - distilled liquor.

    The latter of which being a completely different way to adapt to long, dark winter nights...

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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