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Earth Science

Ancient Skulls Show Civilization Rose As Testosterone Fell 387

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-low-t-cream-please dept.
An anonymous reader writes Even though modern humans started appearing around 200,000 years ago, it was only about 50,000 years ago that artistry and tool making became popular. New research shows that society bloomed when testosterone levels in humans started dropping. A paper published in the journal Current Anthropology, suggests that a testosterone deficit facilitated the friendliness and cooperation between humans, which lead to modern society. "Whatever the cause, reduced testosterone levels enabled increasingly social people to better learn from and cooperate with each other, allowing the acceleration of cultural and technological innovation that is the hallmark of modern human success," says University of Utah biology graduate student Robert Cieri.
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Ancient Skulls Show Civilization Rose As Testosterone Fell

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  • by roc97007 (608802) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @12:56PM (#47594159) Journal

    I have trouble with pronouncements like these, because it's so easy to jump to conclusions about correlation and causation.

    It seems like their conclusion might have a Politically Correct component. Could it be instead that civilization caused a general lowering of testosterone, because high testosterone levels were no longer vital to survival?

    • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:06PM (#47594227)

      Could it be instead that civilization caused a general lowering of testosterone, because high testosterone levels were no longer vital to survival?

      If you follow evolutionary theory, that's the first conclusion one should reach. To assume otherwise is quite scientifically naive. As humans became more proficient at survival and had more time on their hands, being able to sit still and think for a little while was likely a good thing.

      • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:18PM (#47594325) Homepage
        It is also the only reasonable theory form a biological standpoint, as Testosterone has been studied exhaustively and simply does not in anyway reduce cooperation or friendliness. In fact in general testosterone seems to be positively correlated to number of friends and ability to cooperate.

        Why should it have the opposite effect in ancient humans?
        • by wierd_w (1375923) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:43PM (#47594479)

          It's probably an "energy" issue.

          Testosterone is linked with increased muscle mass, and thus with increased rest metabolism. A civilization that has lots of "Adonis" look-a-likes sitting around in the winter will not survive as well as a civilization with lots of beanpoles sitting around in the winter, because the beanpoles require less food per person per winter, and as such, the society will have more energy available to invest in improvements in technology and culture.

          So, while increased testosterone is more sexually attractive, lower testosterone would have conferred a large survival advantage in ancient human history.

          Some experiments could be devised to test this idea in fact--

          Screen the population for a threshold of testosterone production, with a good distribution over ages, (so not all the low T people are 65+ and under 12) divide into two groups of 100, one with low T, and one with high T, pay them to live in isolation in a nice little log cabin up in the mountains, then just monitor their food consumption. According to the theory, the higher T population should consume more food doing the same rest activities as the lower T group. The experiment should determine a rough baseline for the difference, from which a (dangerous) extrapolation could be made.

        • by tylikcat (1578365)

          This, in turn, assumes that the effects of testosterone are consistant and linear, and that they are consistent across other variables, and that's not a safe assumption. First, there are likely one or more optima with testosterone levels, with some loss of function when not as those optima. Second, the effects are likely influenced strongly by other factors. For instance, oxytocin gets a lot of press as being the hug drug and all that, and its effects in terms of promoting social bonding and trust and so ar

      • by jd (1658)

        Doesn't work. Humans started having more time on their hands 1.8 million years ago, but this DECLINED as religion (50k years ago) and agriculture (20k years ago) arose. With the advent of full-time farming (7k years ago) free time almost entirely vanished.

        Nomadic peoples had more free time than any sedentary society prior to the middle of the 20th century, and even then only for the gentry and the middle classes, where said middle classes have since almost entirely suffered extermination at the hands of the

        • Good points, and I certainly would not pretend to understand all the factors. My point was more along the lines of this being on of many things we see that seems to skip over the fundamental basic of evolution to make some other correlation. The one I proposed was certainly not enlightened, but more an example, albeit a poor one based on your response. I just get a little tired of these article suggesting certain relationships when they are merely studying them and have only circumstantial evidence. Evoluti
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Could it be instead that civilization caused a general lowering of testosterone, because high testosterone levels were no longer vital to survival?

      Or that the removal of some other threat or improvement in environmental conditions meant both that conditions existed that favoured the rise of civilisation and that testosterone was no longer required to the same extent as previously.

      Or even that testosterone played its role in enabling humans to overcome a threat that needed to be overcome in order for civiliation to be practical, and since that threat had been overcome the testosterone was no longer needed... in which case it was responsible for the ris

      • by tylikcat (1578365)

        Bear in mind that it's unlikely that lower testosterone levels would be selected for merely because "the testosterone was no longer needed..." You'd expect to see a fitness cost before that happened.

        (Mind you, this is assuming the effect is happening at the level of genetic selection - testosterone could conceivably change as a response to a changing environment, for instance.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by erroneus (253617)

      Nice "wisdom" there. But why did you stop thinking there? There IS definitely a link between excessive testosterone and the lowering of sustained logic, reason and mental stability and order. (Just as there is similar evidence liking excessive estrogen with similar behaviors among women) What happens to people, both men and women when they are on steroids? That's been well established in the medical sciences for decades.

      So to say correlation/causation is a problem here conveniently missed the establishe

      • by tylikcat (1578365)

        As I mentioned above, there are likely one or more optima for testosterone, with a loss of function correlated with not being on one of those optima. It's not likely (looking at other hormonal systems) that it's simply a linear relationship - both too much and too little are possible. (There is also a lot of room for changes on the level of receptor density or binding affinity - so a smaller amount of testosterone could conceivably have more effect.)

        "Feminism, like so many other hate-focused idealisms, requ

      • by thebjorn (530874)

        There IS definitely a link between excessive testosterone and the lowering of sustained logic, reason and mental stability and order. (Just as there is similar evidence liking excessive estrogen with similar behaviors among women) What happens to people, both men and women when they are on steroids? That's been well established in the medical sciences for decades.

        Except that it hasn't. If you're thinking about the so-called "roid-rage" phenomenon, it is mostly media created and in any case has nothing to

        • by erroneus (253617)

          Please at least google the correlation between agressive and violent behavior with higher levels of testosterone? I don't need to make an argument when there is that. That steroid use makes the distinctive results more clear and obvious with clear "before and after" results is a terrific sign post which mere genetic and other natural survey oriented studies can seek to prove or disprove... and HAVE. Unfortunately the ones which show that people of different races have variying levels which may account fo

      • by dave420 (699308) on Monday August 04, 2014 @05:00AM (#47597883)
        Actual feminism is as much about hatred as the civil rights movement was in the 60s. You are confusing some very vocal idiots with the rest of the movement. "Feminist" is what you call someone when they think men and women should be treated equally. That's it. It's got "fem" in the name because currently women are getting the raw deal at the moment. If women were in disproportionately in control, men had lower wages, were denied opportunities, etc. then it would be called "masculism" and the end goal would be the same - equality between the sexes.
    • by epyT-R (613989)

      Thanks to 40 years of affirmative action and political correctness, pretty much all the 'science' around sex differences has been polluted beyond repair and must be called into question at this point. If some 'study' enters the mainstream media, you can be almost certain it is meant as propaganda and not to educate.

    • by RevWaldo (1186281)
      Actually I think there's a clear case of cause and effete here.

      .
  • Social Engineering? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Seems like the biggest cause for the drop would be people realizing that their biggest baddest brutes, were seriously poor negotiators. Sending in the little guy because he was less threatening would make sense. Over time, less threatening males were necessary more and more often.

    • Social Engineering? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:24PM (#47594353)

      'Necessary' doesn't mean they had more babies, though.

      What's more likely is that with the advent of agriculture, more people spent their lives living in one place, with a number of consequences. One is that women and their children were more likely to live their lives alongside their other children, so having more cooperative, less violent children became advantageous. Another is that women were more likely to be impregnated by one of the local farmers, rather than the hot wandering barbarian hunter or the gang of rapists.

      Furthermore, there is a theory that the primary purpose of developing agriculture was not for food but for alcohol. It may have been that the peaceful farmers' access to stuff that could get women drunk was conducive to them having more babies.

      • by Teun (17872)
        Have a look around, it's the dumber women with their testosterone bucks that cause teen pregnacy and their offspring has a documented disadvantage in modern society.

        So I'd say historically the smart women who knew how to pick a father have born smarter children that became the next generation of leaders, something modern civil society is even furthering.

      • Testosterone and violence are not correlated.
    • That doesn't seem to match my reading of history......where for years and years, the bigger guys were respected and admired. See Beowolf, Epic of Gilgamesh, etc for a couple examples
  • Let's Define Success (Score:5, Informative)

    by avgjoe62 (558860) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:02PM (#47594189)
    "Whatever the cause, reduced testosterone levels enabled increasingly social people to better learn from and cooperate with each other, allowing the acceleration of cultural and technological innovation that is the hallmark of modern human success," says University of Utah biology graduate student Robert Cieri.

    The Peaceful Middle East [nytimes.com]

    The newest country on Earth [wikipedia.org]

    Civil society in the West [huffingtonpost.co.uk]

    I am not a pessimist, but I will say that we are a far cry from being a "success".

    • by mspohr (589790)

      Anecdotal reports are worthless.
      A more thorough review of this issue is in the latest book by Jared Diamond "The World Until Yesterday" where he systematically studies the different stages in the evolution of society and shows a progression to less violence and more cooperation.

  • This is part of the extreme hostility toward men in the U.S. culture.

    The body is extremely complicated. There are maybe a million chemicals? Choosing one supposedly connected with men but actually present in both men and women, testosterone [webmd.com], and talking about its importance is thinly veiled hostility.

    The current wave of hostility of women toward men began with the book The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir, a woman who was very confused about life. The book mentioned negative things men do, and avoided mentioning the negative things women do. Part of her viewpoint was influenced by the fact that she was trying to get women to have sex with her.

    There is a movie that shows Simone de Beauvoir was treated as an equal by Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher and friend. She was not second.

    Both Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre had terrible childhoods and both did things in their adult lives that demonstrated their confusion.

    The Washington Post article linked in the Slashdot summary says, "No, this isnâ(TM)t some jab at dudes." Yes it is, and extremely stupid about biochemistry and civilization, also.
    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @01:34PM (#47594431) Journal

      This is part of the extreme hostility toward men in the U.S. culture.

      I know, right? I mean when will the US ever get a male president?

      • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @02:16PM (#47594637)

        You are aware the majority of the electorate in the US is female, right? So maybe there's a slim possibility that they're voting for something other than the genitals of political candidates, due to not being eight years old anymore?

        • You are aware the majority of the electorate in the US is female, right? So maybe there's a slim possibility that they're voting for something other than the genitals of political candidates, due to not being eight years old anymore?

          You seem to be implying that femaleness equates to somehow being less bigoted than being male. I think that is somewhat unlikely.

          You're also implying that anyone over the age of 8 is not sexist.

          Reality disagrees with your fantasy.

          • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @02:52PM (#47594809)

            I'm directly saying that people, men and women, who are mature adults vote in their own best interests rather than pandering to some sort of juvenile playground instinct as feminists would prefer them to. They vote for the person they believe will best represent those interests. Now if you want to talk about why more women don't stand for election, go for it, but that's a different conversation. There is, after all, nothing stopping them.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This is part of the extreme hostility toward men in the U.S. culture.

        I know, right? I mean when will the US ever get a male president?

        Textbook example of "apex fallacy".

      • Amusing but wrong. You can't use "the people on top are men" to mean "all men are on top" And neither negates the very real hostility men experience in the form of "dumb dad" stereotypes, more severe punishments for equal crimes, biased family courts, the pervasive idea that men are dangerous, and many more.
        • Lets suppose some of those things are true. They might be, who knows because, as you say, not a lot of people are talking about them. Fucking do something about it then instead of just complaining. "We have problems too, so therefore your problems are invalid and we should all live in shit together" is not an argument. Feminists are trying to fix problems that matter to them. You try and fix problems that matter to you.
  • Makes sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    Subjects with high levels of testosterone behave pretty much like savages animals, I have witnessed such cases. They behave aggressively, always trying to harm other men (domination, "alpha male") and trying to take woman by force, there is no way to have cooperation between this type of people. The chance to have cooperation between this type of people is very small.
    • I recall watching a documentary on doping in the cycling world - possibly a documentary on Lance Armstrong, I don't remember - in which they described some cyclist who had taken a course of testosterone as becoming quick-tempered and violent as a result, and in a very short time too. I guess it is true

    • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Riddler Sensei (979333) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @02:07PM (#47594609)

      Testosterone isn't some Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde concoction like you seem to think it is.

      As long as we're dealing with anecdotes I will throw mine into the ring. I've engaged in powerlifting as a hobby for the past two years, during which I have met some very impressive, and dedicated, individuals. These men are strong. Really strong. Functionally strong. They're not just pounding out hammer curls and shrugs to get a pump. They are training for strength, the kind of strength where elevated testosterone just comes with the territory. And they've all been pussycats. After benching just shy of 400lbs they aren't grunting and scowling, they're grinning ear-to-ear and are practically giggling. They're considerate with the equipment and readily share when the weight room is busy. They don't scoff at the 110lbs new guy, rather they're begging the new guy to take before-and-after shots because, "...if you keep this up you are going to be AWESOME in a year!"

      Testosterone does not cause assholish-ness, per se, so much as it exacerbates it. If you are a kind, decent, person then becoming strong (and thus achieving higher levels of testosterone) will not change that. But if you are dick...well now you are a dick who is strong and you likely no longer feel the need to restrain your jackass behavior because you feel as though you can physically overwhelm any challengers to your supreme phallus.

    • by PPH (736903)

      Subjects with high testosterone levels* are socialized to compete for some goal. Subjects with low testosterone levels (women) compete against each other. I don't think you want to live in a society dominated by people always trying to trip each other up while smiling at each other.

      I have witnessed such cases.

      And I have witnessed the aforementioned behavior. Taken advantage of it on numerous occasions as well. I'd rather deal with someone that confronts me than creeps around behind my back.

      always trying to harm other men (domination, "alpha male")

      Not really. Read Sex at Dawn [wikipedia.org]. Homo sapiens ar

    • You are on crack (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @02:17PM (#47594645)

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/re... [sciencedaily.com]

      The study's results, however, contradict this view sharply. Test subjects with an artificially enhanced testosterone level generally made better, fairer offers than those who received placebos, thus reducing the risk of a rejection of their offer to a minimum. "The preconception that testosterone only causes aggressive or egoistic behavior in humans is thus clearly refuted," sums up Eisenegger. Instead, the findings suggest that the hormone increases the sensitivity for status. For animal species with relatively simple social systems, an increased awareness for status may express itself in aggressiveness. "In the socially complex human environment, pro-social behavior secures status, and not aggression," surmises study co-author Michael Naef from Royal Holloway London. "The interplay between testosterone and the socially differentiated environment of humans, and not testosterone itself, probably causes fair or aggressive behavior."

      Moreover the study shows that the popular wisdom that the hormone causes aggression is apparently deeply entrenched: those test subjects who believed they had received the testosterone compound and not the placebo stood out with their conspicuously unfair offers. It is possible that these persons exploited the popular wisdom to legitimate their unfair actions. Economist Michael Naef states: "It appears that it is not testosterone itself that induces aggressiveness, but rather the myth surrounding the hormone. In a society where qualities and manners of behavior are increasingly traced to biological causes and thereby partly legitimated, this should make us sit up and take notice." The study clearly demonstrates the influence of both social as well as biological factors on human behavior.

  • by mapuche (41699) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @02:11PM (#47594623) Homepage

    Civilization comes with war. Warriors need a lot of testosterone and battles lead to anihilation of hi-testosterone individuals. I find some evolutive path to decrease of testosterone.

    • Chimps wage war. It is not something that "comes" with civilization, like Oscar thinks gravy comes with meatloaf.
  • by LihTox (754597) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @02:25PM (#47594679)

    You can't build a civilization with *alpha* males; they have to *at least* be in beta.

    (Preferably release versions, but you take what you can get.)

  • High testosterone levels lead to dominant behaviour, aggression and generally a fixation with power and getting pussy. Cooperation and quietly working on things with others certainly takes a back seat then. It's individual success in terms of mating and dominating over success that is actually useful in the long run and with "boring" things.

    That said, not being surprised in no evidence. In best /. fashion I haven't read the fine article, but I would want to see some mechanism that actually LEAD to lower tes

    • Milk was not evolutionary; changes in gut bacteria allowed the drinking of milk because of stupid human behavior they were not eating properly so those children who could use milk lived at higher rates.

      The solution to many problems would be changing the evolutionary pressure so that aggressive and likely testosterone high males do not have offspring. It may currently be unusual but it is NOT crewel to vasectomy rapists and other violent offenders.

  • Correlation does not imply causation.

  • It was because we started cross-breeding with Neanderthals. And then wiping them out, because they were *still* friendlier than we were.

  • We just need to wait roughly three hundred years [depauw.edu] at this point. The science fiction relies more on genetics than hormones, but you can make the extrapolation.

  • Whatever the cause, reduced testosterone levels enabled increasingly social people to better learn from and cooperate with each other

    That's pure speculation at this point. Falling testosterone levels may have been a consequence of civilization, not a cause. Or it may have been coincidental.

    People really need to start separating scientific fact from speculation.

  • by manu0601 (2221348) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @09:18PM (#47596233)

    While I find interesting the idea that lesser testosterone is required for cooperation, my opinion is that the path to that conclusion is rather weak.

    They studied testosterone-induced strong features in skulls, observed they vanished as cooperation raised, and concluded that testosterone must have lowered as cooperation increased.

    But correlation is not causation. Another explanation could be that as cooperation increased, fights decreased, and hence the need for strong skull features.Testosterone could have remained at steady level while its effect on skulls lowered.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday August 04, 2014 @10:32AM (#47599435)
    Myostation, whihc makes them a fifth as strong as other apes the weight. It is thought this diverted metabolic resources to the brain and running. Undergorund chemists are seeking to neutralize of this statin to improve athletes. Medical scientists hopign to stop muscle wasting in dystropy and old people.

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