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Science Idle

Study: Male Facial Development Evolved To Take Punches 190

First time accepted submitter Joe_NoOne (48818) writes "A new theory suggests that our male ancestors evolved beefy facial features as a defense against fist fights. The bones most commonly broken in human punch-ups also gained the most strength in early hominin evolution. They are also the bones that show most divergence between males and females. From the article: 'Fossil records show that the australopiths, immediate predecessors of the human genus Homo, had strikingly robust facial structures. For many years, this extra strength was seen as an adaptation to a tough diet including nuts, seeds and grasses. But more recent findings, examining the wear pattern and carbon isotopes in australopith teeth, have cast some doubt on this "feeding hypothesis". "In fact, [the australopith] boisei, the 'nutcracker man', was probably eating fruit," said Prof David Carrier, the new theory's lead author and an evolutionary biologist at the University of Utah. Instead of diet, Prof Carrier and his co-author, physician Dr Michael Morgan, propose that violent competition demanded the development of these facial fortifications: what they call the "protective buttressing hypothesis".'"
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Study: Male Facial Development Evolved To Take Punches

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  • The Nose (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @12:48PM (#47195923)

    That's why we all have such flat noses.

  • by rabun_bike ( 905430 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @12:51PM (#47195945)
    Sexual selection is most likely an additional element in the facial features as it has been theorized to be one of the primary driving features of some of the physical statue difference between males and females of many different species. Hence Darwin's explanation of the ornate peacock.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]
    • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

      Seems like the environment would cause evolution of features to suit the environment then sexual selection would tend to exaggerate those features with an equilibrium somewhere between the two (If those long tailfeathers are causing you to get caught and eaten before you can reproduce, that's a net negative).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Just ask the Irish Elk about what happens if you spend all your time impressing your lady friends and none of it avoiding horrible death...

        (TL;DR, you can't, because they are all dead.)
    • Not necessarily.

      I know it is painful, but think back to your Jr. High-school days 12-16 years of age. Even if you are growing up in a WASP high end neighborhood. For guys there is the urge to fight, to show your dominance and power. If you were slighted or insulted in front of people (especially the opposite sex) the urge to hit is very strong.
      Now culture and proper parenting and training means kids don't always act on their instinct, but the instinct is there.

      Historically this age was when men began t

      • though that probably mattered way back when men were men and women were breeding machines that did as they were told.

        We've moved on a bit since the days of might is right, hell... those days had already moved on since the days of might is right. Today, you're more likely to get laid by being the guy getting punched as girls tend to be very emotionally caring and empathic - one minute you're on the floor, the next you're being ooh-ed over by a bunch of girls while the bully is being told what an idiot he is.

        • "... and women were breeding machines that did as they were told."

          Wow, had no idea you were that old.

          As for the rest, Alpha male preference in females says that's a pipe dream.

        • by sneakyimp ( 1161443 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @03:14PM (#47197123)
          In your analysis, you seem to have overlooked the incredible reproductive advantage of being part of a society that exercise geopolitical might (e.g., US, Europe, Russia) versus being in a nation that does not exercise such might (e.g., Afghanistan, Sudan). I would also disagree with your assessment that women do not sexually favor dominant men. Dominance today doesn't necessarily mean a punch-resistant face, but women most definitely sexually favor men with who are dominant physically, intellectually, and especially financially. Women might coo and empathize with a guy who gets punched, but I don't think they'll feel compelled to have sex with him.
        • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

          You have a confused conception of history. In the bad old days, BOTH men and women were treated as slaves.

          No, today we've moved on to a society that encourages individuals with little resource to manically reproduce at the expense of those intelligent enough to see the growing negative and falling positive incentives (especially for men nowadays) for doing so. It really is becoming a hypergamous idiocracy.

          You're confusing empathy with sexual desire. Such guys are often friendzoned. That 'idiot' bully ha

          • Except for the Florence Nightingale effect and the appeal that fighting scars can have. That doesn't really change the theory that much, though, as truly 'winning' a fight rarely happens. One party just happens to lose less. Thus, the square jawed men are the ones that can get their ass kicked, not learn their lesson, but still not die.
        • by Livius ( 318358 )

          You seem not to have spent much time in the modern world. Women are the ones who do the telling. Or maybe they're too subtle for you.

      • by leuk_he ( 194174 )

        If you broke your jaw, you not only were KO, but because you could not chew your food effective, you might loose your life. Selection....

      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
        Which backwards aggresive might-is-right country did you grow up in?

        Definitely nothing close at all to my experience growing up in Canada.

      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        If you were slighted or insulted in front of people (especially the opposite sex) the urge to hit is very strong.

        But *smart* hominids don't hit with their fist; they hit with a handy stick or rock. (1) It works far better, and your opponent isn't getting up for a second round, (2) hitting without a weapon is more likely to cause injury to the hitter, both from the punch and from the retaliation, (3) this identifies you as a hominid other monkey-men should respect, and monkey-ladies should consider surfing the gene pool with.

        People tend to take things like punching as "natural", ignoring the *cultural* training that te

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      People cite sexual selection for all kinds of things, but it often just raises the question, why would that feature suddenly become selected for by the opposite sex? It seems like an convenient catch-all explanation.

      If you don't understand what I mean, you might be thinking, "females preferred male features that were more masculine," but then I'd want to point out that our definition of 'masculine' is based off of men having those features. Also, in as much as animals evolve to become attractive to mates

      • by adonoman ( 624929 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @02:15PM (#47196613)
        The explanation I've heard for useless showy features (a la peacock) is that the ability to put resources into giant shiny feathers show that you have the ability to gather enough food to live, and have leftover energy to devote to impressing the ladies. It's not so much the particulars of what the feature is, but rather having resources (or money) to burn indicates that you're successful enough to be a good mate.
      • It is not things that males have per se, but things that a male can show off. A classic example is a peacock's fan. A peacock does not grow its fan to be beautify but to show off Its health. It is saying that it is so fit as a bird it can waste its huge and limited resources on its frivolous tail. It is not the tail feathers but the size and balance of them that are "masculine".

        Why did peahens chose tail feathers? Other birds and animals chose different traits but they tend to choose something that is expe

        • I understand the concept of sexual selection. My point is that sexual selection really only explains how there could be a feedback loop that causes a trait to become exaggerated, but even then it's usually just speculation. And it doesn't address the question of "why was this trait considered attractive in the first place?"
          • I agree. I think that is a very complex thing to determine and put one explanation on it. Without building a good animal model, all we really can do is observe and hypothesize. We can observe things like humans have enormous (off the charts) genitalia compared with other known primates. Why we have them? That's the fun of science to ponder those questions in my opinion.
          • "Why was this trait considered attractive in the first place?" kind of does not matter. The choice can be arbitrary (random) as long as it is a proxy for fitness that is hard to fake and has some type of cost associated with it. Peacocks have tails; humans have square jaws and the ability to dance.

            And this theory rises far above "speculation". There have been many studies on this, both in the field and the lab which have confirmed the thoery.

            • "Why was this trait considered attractive in the first place?" kind of does not matter. The choice can be arbitrary (random)...

              Well that's one kind of statement. Then there's this:

              as long as it is a proxy for fitness that is hard to fake and has some type of cost associated with it.

              ... which pretty well contradicts the idea of it being arbitrary or random. People think that sexual selection is a convenient way to explain any evolution that we can't otherwise explain, but normally it has to start off as a signal of health. That concept brings me back to my original point: It's not really a complete answer. Instead, it raises the question of "why was this trait considered attractive in the first place?" That is, why did those fac

      • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

        > why would that feature suddenly become selected for by the opposite sex?

        who says all selection is driven by female choice? You are leaving no room for choice being driven by availability. Females can only choose from amongst the males who lived long enough to mate; and even then "choice" isn't always the right word when choosing a suitor may mean he needs to fight with the one who is already claiming you and fighting all commers.

        And the violence one is protected from need not even be particularly sex r

        • "Masculine" traits - the topic at hand - are driven by female choice. You are pointing at the more general "fitness" traits to thrive and survive. Going back to the peacock, sometimes "masculine" traits are more important that "fitness" traits. Its tail helps it pass along its genes but also helps it in being killed by predators.

    • This occurred to me as well. Although it's possible, getting one's cheek or nose broken probably won't kill all that often. On the other hand, getting one's jaw broken or teeth broken would probably make it hard to eat. "Lopsided face" resulting from a good punching would likely prevent one from getting laid for sure.
    • Of course sexual selection matters. Women select for the men whose faces can best withstand punching.
    • Yes, and not have a crushed faced from your cheek bone giving in in a fist fight is on the top of the sexual selection check list.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @12:52PM (#47195953) Journal
    I realize that you evolve with the genome you have, not the genome you might want or wish to have at a later time; but even with a bit of incremental up-armoring the human face seems like kind of a dreadful mess when it comes to fist-fighting prowess. Lots of relatively poorly anchored teeth, plenty of well-vascularized soft tissue, some of it of considerable sensory importance (like the squishy, squishy, eyeballs, conveniently also located in two of the big holes in the skull, where there is little more than goo and connective tissue between your brain and the wide, horrible, world...

    Is this just because "radically alter facial morphology" isn't one of those things you evolve even remotely quickly, or without changing a hell of a lot of genes, some of which have other functions, or do we suspect that there are competing constraints working against, or at least limiting, the degree that masculinized facial features are allowed to make you look like some sort of bio-tank?
    • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:06PM (#47196093)

      I realize that you evolve with the genome you have, not the genome you might want or wish to have at a later time;

      Say that again and I'll punch you ;-) ........ or should that be [;=))]

    • one obvious constraint would be the importance of facial expression in human interactions. How many facial muscles are purely mimic? I'd say most of them.
      Eyeballs are not that squishy and one could argue that that deep eyesockets are actually protective - it's rather unlikely to do damage to eyes when the surrounding bone takes the hit, especially with a fist. The nose looks like a bad design though.

    • Actually there's a bone plate between the eye sockets and the brain cavity - it's still one of the weak points, but it's not completely unarmored.

      As for the comparative weakness of the face, I'm inclined to agree, but it also seems that resisting punches was a fairly transient evolutionary force. Consider that it probably didn't take long, evolutionarily speaking, between the invention of the punch and the adoption of the club as a force-multiplier that would have rendered minor skeletal fortifications rel

      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
        ... but then why would all the proto-humans that had the most 'built-up' faces die out and just the pretty boy HSS survive, which was the most aggressive in eliminating the others?
    • by radtea ( 464814 )

      Is this just because "radically alter facial morphology" isn't one of those things you evolve even remotely quickly, or without changing a hell of a lot of genes, some of which have other functions, or do we suspect that there are competing constraints working against, or at least limiting, the degree that masculinized facial features are allowed to make you look like some sort of bio-tank?

      Because of the degree of randomness in evolution by variation and natural selection, there are very few limits imposed by the incremental nature of the process. Random steps can take a locally deleterious feature a long way "up hill" in terms of fitness before it gets lost entirely from the population, and that process may well carry it over into a new local minimum that was deeper than the one it drifted out of.

      That said, there are quite likely strong constraints on facial morphology that put limits on arm

    • You're greatly underestimating the human body. There are documented instances of humans taking on bulls, leopards and even a tiger, one on one without weapons and winning. We also have a vastly superior brain allowing us to project a bull's trajectory and sidestep it or, as the Minoans did, literally take it by the horns and use its goring actions to flip us up, somersault and land behind it safely. We're not nearly as soft as you seem to believe.
      • Even without our large brains, we are a fairly tough animal.
        Bi-pedal allows us to stand taller or as tall as animals 100x our size, means we can see them coming and get out of the way. or if we are hunting we can find pry easier.

        We can run, when in good condition we can run for miles and exhost most animals to death so we don't need to actually fight to kill them.

        We have color vision, being able to help distinguish a lot of camouflage, add this with our ability to see in 3D perspective means we know how far

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      The funny thing is, hitting people in the face is one of the least effective ways to hurt and/or deter an individual and the easiest way to damage yourself.

      Of course, it is the preffered form of combat for meatheads but is rarely used in martial arts.

      Unless of course you know your physics and how to impart the proper force to generate the necessary torque to knock someone out by overloading their trigeminal or vagus nerve. Suprisingly doesn't require much force at all, and yet something that most fighters

    • It is because evolution is set by many different issues.
      yes a face could just be one giant bone shield and it would be better at absorbing punches, but that would also mean you were blind or had your eyes located at a worse vantage point.

      I think this finding is pointing out that Fist Fighting prowess was a signification factor in evolutionary terms, and this related to your face being able to absorb a few punches before becoming horrendously deformed or your death.

      At the same time the ability to see (alongs

    • by asylumx ( 881307 )
      I think what you're missing here is that we are not at the *end* of human evolution, but instead we are somewhere in the middle. Perhaps that's why the human face is better than some other creatures for taking a punch, but not as good as it could be. Also keep in mind that there are many other factors that would go into the evolution of the human face, and what we look like right now is a result of all of those to varying degrees.
  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @12:52PM (#47195963)

    A new theory suggests that our male ancestors evolved beefy facial features as a defense against fist fights.

    I'm trying to keep an open mind about these theories, but they just keep on striking me as mental masturbation by a sub-field that needs to have B.S. called on the lot of them.

    AFAIK, we can only make wildly speculative guesses as to the lifestyles of these creatures. And that will probably be forever true. So unless we find cave drawings of an extensive face-punching meritocracy within these families, it's probably wild speculation as to whether or not it was a relevant factor in the evolution of these features.

    This isn't science.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:12PM (#47196123) Journal
      You want to avoid delving into 'just so stories', or flattering a particular cultural quirk with the status of 'universality' ("Y'know why pink is a girl color, and chicks naturally like it? Because they, like, evolved to judge the ripeness of fruits that they were gathering! Oh, wait, you mean that the association between young girls and pink and young boys and blue is actually a century or two old? Umm, never mind...); but you can infer things about lifestyle and social interaction from archeological evidence.

      Undamaged bone, bone that has experienced substantial unhealed trauma (ie. that trauma was part of whatever killed the bone's owner before any healing occurred), and bone that was damaged; but subsequently healed, all look quite different if they are in reasonably well-preserved shape.

      If a fossil record is adequately detailed across time, changes in skeletal structure are also quite discernable, and isotopic analysis can help determine whether those changes were driven by dietary demands, or whether they occurred for unrelated reasons.

      There is no certainty to be had, and there are pitfalls to avoid; but it's hardly a morass of nescience.
      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        Oh, wait, you mean that the association between young girls and pink and young boys and blue is actually a century or two old? Umm, never mind...)

        I will point out that the same association is relevant to fist fighting. Meaning that it is a relatively new method for humans to resolve conflict. Fighting as a "Sport" dates back to Ancient Greece, but it was "Wresting" and not "Fist Fighting" that was the competition. Competitions we have deciphered from other civilizations predating Ancient Greece are much more brutal (in fact civilizations outside of Greece/Rome as well, even centuries after the founding of Rome.).

        I'm not claiming it's impossible, b

    • I don't find it nearly as far-fetched as you do. Do you realize how likely you'd be to die from a fractured jaw back in those times? Today we have surgery, drugs, etc. to repair these things in (relatively) short order - back then you just starved to death because you couldn't eat. Does survival make enough of a "meritocracy" for you (whatever the hell "merit" has to do with evolution)?

      This is no more highly speculative than the other work by folks who try to figure out what dinosaurs looked like based on p

    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:31PM (#47196301)
      You might be right or wrong, but you have no way of knowing without at least understanding the research and specifically addressing the points they make. You're not going to take the time to read the paper, let alone acquire the necessary background to understand it, and neither am I. Know-nothings tossing out hunches on an Internet forum, now that is mental masturbation.
    • by s.petry ( 762400 )

      Pretty much what you state, but I'll go a bit further. Making this type of claim is akin to claiming that fish evolved jaws to avoid lures. It's not even worthwhile mental masturbation in my opinion, because the theory has no rational basis that I can find.

      If Zog and Ug were fighting over a woman back in the day, do you think they would act out a great bar scene and brawl each other with fists? It's much more likely that disagreements over resources would have been resolved using other means. I.E. Club

  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday June 09, 2014 @12:54PM (#47195983) Homepage Journal

    Of course I read this after my sandwich was late.

    Sorry, sweetie...
  • designed by violence (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hirundo ( 221676 )

    I heard another theory on the way that violence has influenced our evolution. It was suggested that opposable thumbs were favored because they make some apes like ourselves capable of forcible rape, unlike most animals. The success of forcible rape as a breeding strategy led to the differential survival of more violent, impulsive men and more submissive (more likely to survive rape) women who ovulate monthly. And this male aggression has led to homo sapiens becoming earth's dominant megafauna. So if true, o

    • that sounds like something you'd find on a tumblr post.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:24PM (#47196223) Journal
      Why do you need thumbs for raping?

      Plenty of species without hands get their rape on to a degree that makes A Clockwork Orange look like Saturday morning cartoons. Ducks, just by way of example, are so nasty that the evolution of their genital morphology is basically an arms race, with female reproductive tracts getting ever longer and more convoluted, and males developing ever more grotesque Cthulhoid horror-phalluses in an attempt to not let that stop them. ("Explosive eversion and functional morphology of the duck penis supports sexual conflict in waterfowl genitalia" is always a good read if you suspected nature of harboring any traces of benevolence...)
    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      So you haven't seen the dolphin and fish video eh? Monkey and frog?
  • Hypothesis is nuts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cellocgw ( 617879 ) <cellocgw.gmail@com> on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:00PM (#47196031) Journal

    (I see what I did there in the title).

    If this made sense at all, after a few rounds of Rochambeau v. 2 [urbandictionary.com] , we'd all have developed a massive testicular protection layer too.

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      Not necessarily true. First a hit to the testicles is not fatal and secondly not that likely to induce infertility....you do have two of them. If a few rounds of rochambeau would do it, our species would have died out long ago. In fact, as far as I can tell, no male who grew up with a little sister or brother would be able to procreate.

      Secondly, the pain, while large compared to many, is nothing that can't be overcome by the adrenalin levels present during a real fight. A lot less men are going to be droppe

      • ummm... some of us never developed a WHOOOOOOSH detector either, apparently.

        • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

          Perhaps, but I have also run into people who have actually expressed the idea that they have no need to really learn how to fight or defend themselves because they know how to kick a guy in the nuts and if it ever comes down to it, they will do that and run.

          In truth, they may be right, but only because its unlikely they will need to do it, not because its a particularly effective technique.

          • It's not. Male humans have a pretty good reflex for snapping the dominant knee inward to block said kick. Done correctly, by the way, the knee will then shatter the metatarsals.
  • by drolli ( 522659 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:19PM (#47196185) Journal

    "Yes officer, he was meant to be beaten"

  • He must be the non plus ultra of evolutionary progress, since never has there been a face so in need of being punched.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:29PM (#47196271) Homepage
    Jay Leno: clearly developed offensive chin to return punishing blows to his opponent
    Gary Busey: long forehead designed to absorb impact, but also more importantly channel telekenetic messages to ice tray full of cream cheese across room
  • Facial bones designed to withstand punches, and their language having over four hundred different words for 'vomit'.

  • by cellocgw ( 617879 ) <cellocgw.gmail@com> on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:43PM (#47196381) Journal

    If only the Red Viper had a more punch-resistant face, eh?

  • TroLLOLOlllloLOlLololOol!!!!

  • Does that also mean that male hands developed in a way that they could better absorb the impact of a punch?

    What about nuts? It seems to me that we should have developed "stone-nads" to better absorb the impact of a kick in the nuts. I guess that evolution is still in progress :-)

    • Testicles are on the outside because they produce more sperm that way (because it's at a lower temperature than they would be inside the body). Keep in mind that they didn't become such an easy target until we started walking upright, thus making them something that can be hit from front or behind. So far, we don't seem to have developed anything that works better than 'avoid getting kicked in the nuts,' which is itself a pretty strong instinct.
  • by coinreturn ( 617535 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @02:44PM (#47196849)
    I will punch the researchers in the face and see how evolved they are.
  • ... because evolve face to support strokes during falls and other nature related hurts are too mainstream.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday June 09, 2014 @05:26PM (#47198275) Homepage Journal

    The problem I have with these theories is that they don't explain why the hand is so poorly adapted to *deliver* punches. It wouldn't be complicated, you've got all you need to start with given normal variations in hand anatomy. Favor the guys with extra sturdy 5th metacarpals, and voila! Boxer's fractures are a thing of th evolutionary past.

    It's just hard to buy that punching exerts such a dramatic evolutionary pressure on various anatomical features and leaves the fist something a person has to be *taught* to make properly, and which *still* tends to injure itself while punching without the benefit of gloves or taping.

    It seems more plausible that the response of facial development to the presence of testosterone is a matter of *sexual* selection than survival based selection, that humans evolved to hit with clubs and rocks and that fists are a less critical corner case. People who come up with these theories evidently don't have much experience hitting things with their bare hands, which is not surprising given that they've got these handy opposable thumbs.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
    Your face was made for punchin! So that's just what I'll do! One of these days these fists are gonna punch all over you!
  • The bones feels a little pointy around there.
  • For many years, this extra strength was seen as an adaptation to a tough diet...

    And not even one joke about "knuckle sandwich"?

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