Is there a correlation between intelligence and taste?

(I am annoyed by the lack of bands between 1200 and 1350)

De gustibus non disputandum est. — Confucius

We’re talking about foods, not whether you prefer Beethoven or Lil’ Wayne.

Certainly there are broad correlations between the foods people enjoy and their ethnicity/social class. If you know whether I chose fried okra, chicken feet, gefilte fish, escargot, or grasshoppers for dinner, you can make a pretty good guess about my background. (Actually, I have eaten all of these things. The grasshoppers were over-salted, but otherwise fine.) The world’s plethora of tasty (and not-so-tasty) cuisines is due primarily to regional variations in what grows well where (not a lot of chili peppers growing up in Nunavut, Canada,) and cost (the rich can always afford fancier fare than the poor,) with a side dish of seemingly random cultural taboos like “don’t eat pork” or “don’t eat cows” or “don’t eat grasshoppers.”

But do people vary in their experience of taste? Does intelligence influence how you perceive your meal, driving smarter (or less-smart) people to seek out particular flavor profiles or combinations? Or could there be other psychological or neurological factors at play n people’s eating decisions?

This post was inspired by a meal my husband, an older relative and I shared recently at McDonald’s. It had been a while since we’d last patronized McDonald’s, but older relative likes their burgers, so we went and ordered some new-to-us variety of meat-on-a-bun. As my husband and I sat there, deconstructing the novel taste experience and comparing it to other burgers, the older relative gave us this look of “Jeez, the idiots are discussing the flavor of a burger! Just eat it already!”

As we dined later that evening at my nemesis, Olive Garden, I began wondering whether we actually experienced the food the same way. Perhaps there is something in people that makes them prefer bland, predictable food. Perhaps some people are better at discerning different flavors, and the people who cannot discern them end up with worse food because they can’t tell?

Unfortunately, it appears that not a lot of people have studied whether there is any sort of correlation between IQ and taste (or smell.) There’s a fair amount of research on taste (and smell,) like “do relatives of schizophrenics have impaired senses of smell?” (More on Schizophrenics and their decreased ability to smell) or “can we get fat kids to eat more vegetables?” Oh, and apparently the nature of auditory hallucinations in epileptics varies with IQ (IIRC.) But not much that directly addresses the question.

I did find two references that, somewhat in passing, noted that they found no relationship between taste and IQ, but these weren’t studies designed to test for that. For example, in A Food Study of Monotony, published in 1958 (you know I am really looking for sources when I have to go back to 1958,) researchers restricted the diets of military personnel employed at an army hospital to only 4 menus to see how quickly and badly they’d get bored of the food. They found no correlation between boredom and IQ, but people employed at an army hospital are probably pre-selected for being pretty bright (and having certain personality traits in common, including ability to stand army food.)

Interestingly, three traits did correlate with (or against) boredom:

Fatter people got bored fastest (the authors speculate that they care the most about their food,) while depressed and feminine men (all subjects in the study were men) got bored the least. Depressed people are already disinterested in food, so it is hard to get less-interested, but no explanation was given of what they meant by “femininity” or how this might affect food preferences. (Also, the hypochondriacs got bored quickly.)

Some foods inspire boredom (or even disgust) quickly, while others are virtually immune. Milk and bread, for example, can be eaten every day without complaint (though you might get bored if bread were your only food.) Potted meat, by contrast, gets old fast.

Likewise, Personality Traits and Eating Habits (warning PDF) notes that:

Although self-reported eating practices were not associated with educational level, intelligence, nor various indices of psychopathology, they were related to the demographic variables of gender and age: older participants reported eating more fiber in their diets than did younger ones, and women reported more avoidance of fats from meats than did men.

Self-reported eating habits may not be all that reliable, though.

Autistic children do seem to be worse at distinguishing flavors (and smells) than non-autistic children, eg Olfaction and Taste Processing in Autism:

Participants with autism were significantly less accurate than control participants in identifying sour tastes and marginally less accurate for bitter tastes, but they were not different in identifying sweet and salty stimuli. … Olfactory identification was significantly worse among participants with autism. … True differences exist in taste and olfactory identification in autism. Impairment in taste identification with normal detection thresholds suggests cortical, rather than brainstem dysfunction.

(Another study of the eating habits of autistic kids found that the pickier ones were rated by their parents as more severely impaired than the less picky ones, but then severe food aversions are a form of life impairment. By the way, do not tell the parents of an autistic kid, “oh, he’ll eat when he’s hungry.” They will probably respond politely, but mentally they are stabbing you.)

On brainstem vs. cortical function–it appears that we do some of our basic flavor identification way down in the most instinctual part of the brain, as Facial Expressions in Response to Taste and Smell Stimulation explores. The authors found that pretty much everyone makes the same faces in response to sweet, sour, and bitter flavors–whites and blacks, old people and newborns, retarded people and blind people, even premature infants, blind infants, and infants born missing most of their brains. All of which is another point in favor of my theory that disgust is real. (And if that is not enough science of taste for you, I recommend Place and Taste Aversion Learning, in which animals with brain lesions lost their fear of new foods.)

Genetics obviously plays a role in taste. If you are one of the 14% or so of people who think cilantro tastes like soap (and I sympathize, because cilantro definitely tastes like soap,) then you’ve already discovered this in a very practical way. Genetics also obviously determine whether you continue producing the enzyme for milk digestion after infancy (lactase persistence). According to Why are you a picky eater? Blame genes, brains, and breastmilk:

In many cases, mom and dad have only themselves to blame for unwittingly passing on the genes that can govern finicky tastes. Studies show that genes play a major role in determining who becomes a picky eater, including recent research on a group of 4- to 7-year-old twins. Part of the pickiness can be attributed to specific genes that govern taste. Variants of the TAS2R38 gene, for example, have been found to encode for taste receptors that determine how strongly someone tastes bitter flavors.

Researchers at Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center, a scientific institute dedicated to the study of smell and taste, have found that this same gene also predicts the strength of sweet-tooth cravings among children. Kids who were more sensitive to bitterness preferred sugary foods and drinks. However, adults with the bitter receptor genes remained picky about bitter foods but did not prefer more sweets, the Monell study found. This suggests that sometimes age and experience can override genetics.

I suspect that there is actually a sound biological, evolutionary reason why kids crave sweets more than grownups, and this desire for sweets is somewhat “turned off” as we age.

Picture 10

From a review of Why some like it hot: Food, Genetics, and Cultural Diversity:

Ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan suggests that diet had a key role in human evolution, specifically, that human genetic diversity is predominately a product of regional differences in ancestral diets. Chemical compounds found within animals and plants varied depending on climate. These compounds induced changes in gene expression, which can vary depending on the amount within the particular food and its availability. The Agricultural Age led to further diet-based genetic diversity. Cultivation of foods led to the development of novel plants and animals that were not available in the ancestral environment. …

There are other fascinating examples of gene-diet interaction. Culturally specific recipes, semi-quantitative blending of locally available foods and herbs, and cooking directions needed in order to reduce toxins present in plants, emerged over time through a process of trial-and error and were transmitted through the ages. The effects on genes by foods can be extremely complex given the range of plant-derived compounds available within a given region. The advent of agriculture is suggested to have overridden natural selection by random changes in the environment. The results of human-driven selection can be highly unexpected. …

In sedentary herding societies, drinking water was frequently contaminated by livestock waste. The author suggests in order to avoid contaminated water, beverages made with fermented grains or fruit were drunk instead. Thus, alcohol resistance was selected for in populations that herded animals, such as Europeans. By contrast, those groups which did not practice herding, such as East Asians and Native Americans, did not need to utilize alcohol as a water substitute and are highly sensitive to the effects of alcohol.

Speaking of genetics:

From Eating Green could be in your Genes

Indians and Africans are much more likely than Europeans and native South Americans to have an allele that lets them eat a vegetarian diet:

The vegetarian allele evolved in populations that have eaten a plant-based diet over hundreds of generations. The adaptation allows these people to efficiently process omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and convert them into compounds essential for early brain development and controlling inflammation. In populations that live on plant-based diets, this genetic variation provided an advantage and was positively selected in those groups.

In Inuit populations of Greenland, the researchers uncovered that a previously identified adaptation is opposite to the one found in long-standing vegetarian populations: While the vegetarian allele has an insertion of 22 bases (a base is a building block of DNA) within the gene, this insertion was found to be deleted in the seafood allele.

Of course, this sort of thing inspires a wealth of pop-psych investigations like Dr. Hirsch’s What Flavor is your Personality?  (from a review:

Dr. Hirsh, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Research and Treatment Foundation in Chicago, stands by his book that is based on over 24 years of scientific study and tests on more than 18,000 people’s food choices and personalities.)

that nonetheless may have some basis in fact, eg: Personality may predict if you like spicy foods:

Byrnes assessed the group using the Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking (AISS), a test for the personality trait of sensation-seeking, defined as desiring novel and intense stimulation and presumed to contribute to risk preferences. Those in the group who score above the mean AISS score are considered more open to risks and new experiences, while those scoring below the mean are considered less open to those things.

The subjects were given 25 micrometers of capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers, and asked to rate how much they liked a spicy meal as the burn from the capsaicin increased in intensity. Those in the group who fell below the mean AISS rapidly disliked the meal as the burn increased. People who were above the mean AISS had a consistently high liking of the meal even as the burn increased. Those in the mean group liked the meal less as the burn increased, but not nearly as rapidly as those below the mean.

And then there are the roughly 25% of us who are “supertasters“:

A supertaster is a person who experiences the sense of taste with far greater intensity than average. Women are more likely to be supertasters, as are those from Asia, South America and Africa.[1] The cause of this heightened response is unknown, although it is thought to be related to the presence of the TAS2R38 gene, the ability to taste PROP and PTC, and at least in part, due to an increased number of fungiform papillae.[2]

Perhaps the global distribution of supertasters is related to the distribution of vegetarian-friendly alleles. It’s not surprising that women are more likely to be supertasters, as they have a better sense of smell than men. What may be surprising is that supertasters tend not to be foodies who delight in flavoring their foods with all sorts of new spices, but instead tend toward more restricted, bland diets. Because their sense of taste is essentially on overdrive, flavors that taste “mild” to most people taste “overwhelming” on their tongues. As a result, they tend to prefer a much more subdued palette–which is, of course, perfectly tasty to them.

Picture 8A French study, Changes in Food Preferences and Food Neophobia during a Weight Reduction Session, measured kids’ ability to taste flavors, then the rate at which they became accustomed to new foods. The more sensitive the kids were to flavors, the less likely they were to adopt a new food; the less adept they were at tasting flavors, the more likely they were to start eating vegetables.

Speaking of pickiness again:

“During research back in the 1980s, we discovered that people are more reluctant to try new foods of animal origin than those of plant origin,” Pelchat says. “That’s ironic in two ways. As far as taste is concerned, the range of flavors in animal meat isn’t that large compared to plants, so there isn’t as much of a difference. And, of course, people are much more likely to be poisoned by eating plants than by animals, as long as the meat is properly cooked.” …

It’s also possible that reward mechanisms in our brain can drive changes in taste. Pelchat’s team once had test subjects sample tiny bits of unfamiliar food with no substantial nutritional value, and accompanied them with pills that contained either nothing or a potent cocktail of caloric sugar and fat. Subjects had no idea what was in the pills they swallowed. They learned to like the unfamiliar flavors more quickly when they were paired with a big caloric impact—suggesting that body and brain combined can alter tastes more easily when unappetizing foods deliver big benefits.

So trying to get people to adopt new foods while losing weight may not be the best idea.

(For all that people complain about kids’ pickiness, parents are much pickier. Kids will happily eat playdoh and crayons, but one stray chicken heart in your parents’ soup and suddenly it’s “no more eating at your house.”)

Of course, you can’t talk about food without encountering meddlers who are convinced that people should eat whatever they’re convinced is the perfect diet, like these probably well-meaning folks trying to get Latinos to eat fewer snacks:

Latinos are the largest racial and ethnic minority group in the United States and bear a disproportionate burden of obesity related chronic disease. Despite national efforts to improve dietary habits and prevent obesity among Latinos, obesity rates remain high. …

there is a need for more targeted health promotion and nutrition education efforts on the risks associated with soda and energy-dense food consumption to help improve dietary habits and obesity levels in low-income Latino communities.

Never mind that Latinos are one of the healthiest groups in the country, with longer life expectancies than whites! We’d better make sure they know that their food ways are not approved of!

I have been saving this graph for just such an occasion.
Only now I feel bad because I forgot to write down who made this graph so I can properly credit them. If you know, please tell me!

(Just in case it is not clear already: different people are adapted to and will be healthy on different diets. There is no magical, one-size-fits-all diet.)

And finally, to bring this full circle, it’s hard to miss the folks claiming that Kids Who Eat Fast Food Have Lower IQs:

4,000 Scottish children aged 3-5 years old were examined to compare the intelligence dampening effects of fast food consumption versus  “from scratch”  fare prepared with only fresh ingredients.

Higher fast food consumption by the children was linked with lower intelligence and this was even after adjustments for wealth and social status were taken into account.

It’d be better if they controlled for parental IQ.

The conclusions of this study confirm previous research which shows long lasting effects on IQ from a child’s diet. An Australian study from the University of Adelaide published in August 2012 showed that toddlers who consume junk food grow less smart as they get older. In that study, 7000 children were examined at the age of 6 months, 15 months, 2 years to examine their diet.

When the children were examined again at age 8, children who were consuming the most unhealthy food had IQs up to 2 points lower than children eating a wholesome diet.



Thoughts on Frost’s The Adaptive Value of “Aw Shucks”

Peter Frost recently posted on female shyness among men–more specifically, on the observation that adolescent white females appear to become very shy among groups of males and suffer depression, but adolescent black females don’t.

Frost theorizes that women are instinctually deferential to men, especially when they are economically dependent on them, and that whites show more of this deference than blacks because traditional white marriage patterns–monogamy–have brought women into more contact with men while making them more economically dependent on them than traditional African marriage patterns–polygyny–and therefore white women have evolved to have more shyness.

This explanation is decent, but feels incomplete.

Did anyone bother to ask the girls why they felt shy around the boys? Probably someone has, but that information wasn’t included in the post. But I can share my own experiences.

For starters, I’ve never felt–and this may just be me–particularly shyer around males than around females, nor do I recall ever talking less in highschool due to class composition. Rather, the amount I talked had entirely to do with how much I liked the subject matter vs. how tired I was. However, in non-school settings, I am less likely to talk when conversations are dominated by men, simply because men tend to talk about things I find boring, like cars, sports, or finance. (I suspect I have an unusually high tolerance for finance/economic discussions for a female, but there are limits to what even I can stand, and the other two topics drive me to tears of boredom. Sports, as far as I am concerned, are the Kardashians of men.) I am sure the same is true in reverse–when groups of women get together, they talk about stuff that men find horribly dull.

Even in classroom conversations that are ostensibly led by the teacher, male students may make responses that just aren’t interesting to the female students, leading to the females getting bored or having little to say in response.

So, do black adolescent girls and boys have more conversation topics in common than whites?

Second, related to Frost’s observations, men tend to be more aggressive while talking than women. They are louder, they interrupt more, they put less effort into assuaging people’s feelings, etc. I am sure women do things men find annoying, like ramble on forever without getting to the point or talking about their feelings in these weirdly associative ways. Regardless, I suspect that women/adolescents (at least white ones) often find the male style overwhelming, and their response is to retreat.

When feminists say they need “safe spaces” away from men to discuss their feminism things, they aren’t entirely inaccurate. It’s just that society used to have these “safe spaces” for women back before the feminists themselves destroyed them! Even now, it is easy to join a Mommy Meetup group or find an all-female Bible study club. But, oh wait, these are regressive! What we need are all-female lawyers, or doctors, or mathematicians…

*Ahem* back on subject, if testosterone => aggression, it would be interesting to see if the difference in black vs white females is simply a result of different testosterone levels (though of course that is just kicking the ball back a bit, because we then must ask what causes different testosterone levels.)

I suspect that Frost is on the right track looking at polygyny vs. monogamy, but I think his mechanism (increased time around/dependence on men => increase shyness) is incomplete. He’s missed something from his own work: polygynous males have higher testosterone than monogamous ones (even within their own society.) (See: The Contradictions of Polygyny and Polygyny Makes Men Bigger, Tougher, and Meaner.) Even if women in polygynous societies were expected to behave exactly like women from monogamous societies, I’d expect some “spillover” effect from the higher testosterone in their men–that is, everyone in society ought to have higher testosterone levels than they would otherwise.

Additionally, let us consider that polygyny is not practiced the same everywhere. In the Middle East, sexual access to women is tightly controlled–to the point where women may be killed for extra-marital sexual activity. In this case, the women are effectively monogamous, while the men are not. By contrast, in the societies Frost describes from Sub-Saharan Africa, it sounds like both men and women have a great many sexual partners during adolescence and early adulthood (which explains the high STD rates.)

If polygamy increases male aggression and testosterone levels because them men have to invest more energy into finding mates, then it stands to reason that women who have lots of mates are also investing lots of energy into finding them, and so would also have increased levels of aggression and testosterone.

Speaking again from personal experience, I observed that my own desire to talk to men basically cratered after I got married (and then had kids.) Suddenly something about it seemed vaguely tawdry. Of course, this leaves me in a bit of a pickle, because there aren’t that many moms who want to discuss HBD or related topics. (Thankfully I have the internet, because talking to words on a screen is a very different dynamic.) Of course, if I were back on the dating market again (god forbid!) I’d have to talk to lots of men again.

So I think the equation here shouldn’t be +time with men => +shyness, -time with men => -shyness, but +pursuit of partners => +aggression, -pursuit of partners => -aggression.

None of this gets into the “depression” issue. What’s up with that?

Personally, while I felt plenty of annoying things during highschool, the only ones triggered by boys were of the wanting to fall in love variety and the feeling sad if someone didn’t like me variety. I did feel some distress over wanting the adults to treat me like an adult, but that has nothing to do with boys. But this may just be me being odd.

We know that whites, women, and the subset of white women suffer from depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness at higher rates than blacks, men, and pretty much everyone else. I speculate that anxiety, shyness, disgust, and possibly even depression are part of a suite of traits that help women women avoid male aggression, perform otherwise dull tasks like writing English papers or washing dishes, keep out of trouble, and stay interested in their husbands and only their husbands.

In a society where monogamy is enforced, people (or their parents) may even preferrentially chose partners who seem unlikely to stray–that is, women (or men) who display little interest in actively pursuing the opposite sex. So just as women in polygamous societies may be under selective pressure to become more aggressive, women in monogamous societies may be under selective pressure to have less interest in talking to men.

Eventually, you get Japan.

Amusingly, the studies Frost quotes view white female shyness as a bad thing to be corrected, and black female non-shyness as a good thing that mysteriously exists despite adverse conditions. But what are the effects of white female shyness? Do white women go to prison, become pregnant out of wedlock, or get killed by their partners at higher rates than black women? Do they get worse grades, graduate from school at lower rates, or end up in worse professions?

Or maybe shy girls are perfectly fine the way they are and don’t need fixing.


HBD and The Continuum Concept

A few years ago, I read a mystifying discussion on the subject of Sub-Saharan African development. Side A claimed that SSA was inferior because it had no significant development; Side B claimed that “development” was a cultural value that SSA cultures simply didn’t share. It is true enough that SSA has never had much in the way of “development”–cities were few and far between, and even today, some parts are virtually impassible. (This is a fantastic, wild story, btw, about a couple attempting to cross the DRC by truck. I strongly recommend it.) But how could valuing “development” be culturally relative? Didn’t everyone want development?

A couple of weeks later, I happened, (by total coincidence,) on Liedloff’s The Continuum Concept. This is the kind of book that only tends to appear to hippie parents, but if you’re interested in parenting from an evolutionary perspective, I recommend it. In the book, Liedloff goes to live in a “stone age” village in the Amazon Rainforest. At first she is annoyed by the difficulties of life in the village–for example, there’s no running water. Why don’t the people rig up some sort of system to bring running water to the village so they don’t have to trek down to the river every day?

Then Liedloff has a revelation: the villagers like walking down to the stream every day. It’s a pleasant walk, the stream is nice, and they enjoy having a swim together while they’re there. Is it any better to have running water if you’re less happy as a result?

This is what Side B meant. Not everyone wants to live in skyscrapers. Some people are perfectly happy in huts.

Genetics provides one explanation for why cultures are as they are; gene-culture co-evolution a more refined one. But you don’t have to believe in genetics to understand that cultures are a result of the people who make them.

People like to pretend that culture is nothing more than different clothes and fancy foods. This is Culture for Children, the sort of thing you see at an elementary school Culture Fair.

Food is nice, but that’s not what culture is. Culture is the sum of the personalities, values, even neuroses of the people involved. Some people incredibly driven, super-hard workers. Some people are relaxed and easy going. Some are shy. Some are warm. Japan is Japan because the Japanese made it that way; the DRC is the DRC because the Congolese made it that way. No, the Japanese aren’t perfectly happy with their culture, and neither are the Congolese, and neither are we, but each is still the result of the people in it, and people generally want to keep the parts of their culture that are important to them.

We tend to assume that everyone out there secretly wants to be like us. If we just give them democracy, they’ll start acting like us, we think. If we let them immigrate, they’ll act like us. If we just send them to more school, they’ll start acting like us.

Then we are confused when they don’t.

To this day, the Indians are still pissed off that white people sent them to school to try to impart white culture to them. “Cultural genocide” they call it. And they have every right to be pissed–they didn’t want to be white. They had their own culture. They were perfectly happy with it.

So let them be them and you be you.



The Recent Development of High European IQ

You know what’s kind of awesome? Understanding the economic development level of virtually every country on earth becomes much easier as soon as you realize the massive correlation between per capita and IQ–and it gets even better if you focus on verbal IQ or “smart fraction” vebal IQs:

Oh, there you are, correlation
Lifted gratefully from La Griffe du Lion‘s Smart Fraction II article
I do wonder why he made the graph so much bigger than the relevant part
Lifted gratefully from La Griffe du Lion‘s Smart Fraction II article

La Griffe du Lion has a lot of great articles explaining phenomena via math, so if you haven’t read them already, I strongly recommend that you do.

One wonders what this data would look like if we looked backwards, at per capita GDP in, say, the 15 to 1800s.

I really hope I can find a better graph
I really hope I can find a better graph (this one’s from Wikimedia)


Well, that's slightly better
Also from Wikimedia

According to the Guardian article about the paper British Economic Growth 1270-1870, “estimates that per capita income in England in the late middle ages was about $1,000 or £634 a year when compared with currency values in 1990.

“According to the World Bank, countries which had a per capita income of less than $1,000 last year included Ghana ($700), Cambodia ($650), Tanzania ($500), Ethiopia ($300) and Burundi ($150), while in India – one of the BRIC emerging economies – the gross income per capita stands only just above medieval levels at $1,180.”

Ah, here’s a decent graph:

I am so not digging the scale on this graph
From the Wikipedia page on India-EU relations

From the description of the graph:

“The %GDP of Western Europe in the chart is the region in Europe that includes the following modern countries – UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and other smaller states in the Western part of Europe.

The %GDP of Middle East in the chart is the region in West Asia and Northeast Africa that includes the following modern countries – Egypt, Israel, Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Yemen, Iran, Iraq and other regions in the Arabian region.”

The problem with doing the graph this way is that it doesn’t control for population growth. Obviously the US expanded greatly in population between 1700 and 1950, crushing the rest of the world’s GDP by comparison, without anyone else necessarily getting any poorer. It would be nice if the graph included Africa, because I wonder how things like Mansa Musa’s gold mines would show up.

At any rate, here is my impression, which this graph basically seems to back up:

Around the time of the Romans, “Europe” and the Middle East had similar levels of development, integration into global economy, etc. The fall of the Roman Empire coincided with the Middle East pulling ahead in math, science, and nice-looking buildings.

Meanwhile, India and China were doing quite well for themselves, though it’s not clear from the graph how much of that is population. I would not be surprised to find similar numbers for per capita GDP at that time, though.

Then around 1000, Europe starts to improve while the Middle East falls behind and stays there. I suspect this is in part because cousin marriage became more common in the Middle East between 0 and 1000 while simultaneously becoming less common in Europe, and because the Middle East probably didn’t have much arable land left to expand into and so population couldn’t increase very much, whereas the Germans started their big eastward migration about then, (The Ostsiedlung–goodness, it took me a while to figure out how that’s spelled.) increasing the number of Europeans in our cohort and spurring growth.


One of my earlier theories was "I suspect Eastern Germany must was settled after western Germany, due to pesonalities," which turns out to be true
Click for the bigger version )

India, meanwhile, went downhill for a long time, for I have no idea why reasons. China was doing great until quite recently, when it apparently went capootie. Why? I don’t know, but I think part of the effect is just Europe (and the US) suddenly pulling ahead, making China look less significant by comparison.

So. Extrapolating backwards from what we know about the correlation between GDP and verbal IQ, I suspect Western Europe experienced a massive increase in IQ between 1000 and 1900.

A large chunk of this increase was probably driven by the German eastward expansion, a rather major migration you’ve probably never heard of. (As HBD Chick says, “from a sociobiological point-of-view, probably the most underappreciated event in recent western european history. that and the reconquest of spain.”) Another large chunk was probably driven by various cultural factors unique to manorialism and Christianity.

Windmills began popping up in Western Europe in the late 1100s (given that they seem to have started in France, England, and Flanders, rather than in areas geographically closer to the Middle East, it seems unlikely that the European windmills were inspired by earlier Middle Eastern windmills, but were instead a fairly independent invention.

Watermills were an earlier invention–the Classical Romans and Greeks had them. The Chinese and Middle Easterners had them, too, at that time. I don’t know how many mills they all had, but Europeans really took to them:

“At the time of the compilation of the Domesday Book (1086), there were 5,624 watermills in England alone, only 2% of which have not been located by modern archeological surveys. Later research estimates a less conservative number of 6,082, and it has been pointed out that this should be considered a minimum as the northern reaches of England were never properly recorded. In 1300, this number had risen to between 10,000 and 15,000. [Bold mine.]By the early 7th century, watermills were well established in Ireland, and began to spread from the former territory of the empire into the non-romanized parts of Germany a century later. Ship mills and tide mill were introduced in the 6th century.” (Wikipedia page on Watermills.)

In short, by the 1300s, Europe was well on its way toward industrialization.

IMO, these things combined to produce a land where the clever could get ahead and have more children than the non-clever, where those who could figure out a new use or more efficient milling design could profit.

Oh, look, here’s something relevant from HBD Chick, quoting Daniel Hannan’s article in the Telegraph:

“‘By 1200 Western Europe has a GDP per capita higher than most parts of the world, but (with two exceptions) by 1500 this number stops increasing. In both data sets the two exceptions are Netherlands and Great Britain. These North Sea economies experienced sustained GDP per capita growth for six straight centuries. The North Sea begins to diverge from the rest of Europe long before the “West” begins its more famous split from “the rest”. [W]e can pin point the beginning of this “little divergence” with greater detail. In 1348 Holland’s GDP per capita was $876. England’s was $777. In less than 60 years time Holland’s jumps to $1,245 and England’s to 1090. The North Sea’s revolutionary divergence started at this time.’

The result, I suspect, was an increase in average IQs of about 10 to 15 points–perhaps 20 points in specific sub-groups, eg Ashkenazi Jews–with an overall widening of the spread toward the top end.

West African Marriage and Child-Rearing Norms vs. African American Norms

“Divorce is not a new thing, people have been getting divorces in this part of the world for centuries. The truth is that marriage was not necessarily about love, but wait this is not a bad thing, marriage was a contract in which both the husband and the wife would receive mutual benefits. In addition, women married families, not just the man. If the wife was not gaining her benefits, why should she stay in the marriage? Some of us are the grand- or great-grand daughters of women who divorced several times. It was not a taboo and was not treated as something shameful. Apparently no woman getting married believed that it would last a lifetime. Women left their husbands under various pretexts and returned to their parents’ home leaving children with the husband’s family, they would frequently return to continue playing a role in their children’s lives. Women could have several husbands in their lifetime not unlike men who married multiple women.”

–Cosmic Yoruba, “Would Your Ancestors be Shocked by Traditional Marriage?” on pre-colonial marriage practices among the Yoruba (She also posts about other West African tribes.) Bold mine.


“I have noted that the most popular women in Yoruba history who are still remembered today are thought to have never married or had children (starting with Efunsetan). When women divorced, sometimes they would leave their children with their husbands’ families, so blended families always existed too. And there were several reasons people did not marry, sometimes not by choice, for example certain priests/priestesses never married because they were already married to the dieties they worshipped.”

” I can’t speak authoritatively for every society, but in parts of Yorubaland this love of kids was not limited to ones biological children. It’s interesting that people would say Africans in the past loved kids, but would limit this to biological children. Have we all not heard of the “it takes a whole village to raise a child” thing? Marriage was never for procreation because children were seen as communal. I have learned that adoption was not uncommon among some Yoruba of the past (and in fact among other ethnic groups, remember King Ahebi’s most beloved son was adopted). Usually temporary unlike the Western adoption model today, it was normal for children to live away from their parents. My own parents did not grow up with their parents but with relatives. It was common back in the day to send children to a place where they could learn a trade and work as an apprentice. Basically everyone took care of children.”

“I think a lot of us tend to be ashamed of polygamy when referring to the past but look at it this way; the polygamy of the past existed because people needed to make a living. Again marriage was mutually beneficial. In places where land was usually owned by men, wives would work on land, farm and sell their produce in order to make money for themselves.”

The location of pre-colonial Yorubaland (from Wikipedia):

The Niger is a pretty major river.
Locations of medieval Yoruba cities
Yorubaland, relative to the rest of the world


They don't call it the "slave coast" for nothing.
Geographic origins of the American African population (from the Slavery Site’s “Maps of Africa and the Slave Trade”)


From Slavery Site: “Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with a population of 149,229,090. It is bordered on the coast by Benin to the west and Cameroon to the east. Lagos was originally settled by the Yorubas, and is now the largest city in Nigeria (8-10 million population) and one of the largest in Africa, second to Cairo in urban area population. Located on the Slave Coast, it was a major center of the slave trade from 1704 to 1851.”

Statistically, most maltreatment is neglect
Foster care and child abuse rates broken down by race in California — from “Protecting Children from Abuse and Neglect: Trends and Issues

From Protecting Children from Abuse and Neglect: Trend and Issues (discussing the CA foster care system):

Foster Care Population by Race/Ethnicity. As shown in Figure 10, African–American and Native American children make up a disproportionately high amount of the foster care population relative to their share of the total state population (for those ages 20 or younger). The rates of African–Americans in foster care are four times that of the rates of African–Americans in the state’s total population, [bold mine] and similar disproportionality exists for Native Americans. Conversely, there are lower rates of Whites, Latinos, and Asian/Pacific Islanders in the foster care population as there are in the state’s total population. Most notably, Asian/Pacific Islanders make up approximately 11 percent of the state population but only 2.5 percent of the foster care population. [Me: Even though a lot of these folks were Vietnamese refugees who’ve had it pretty damn hard in life.]

“Foster Care Outcomes by Race/Ethnicity. There are also differences in foster care outcomes when comparing one race/ethnicity to another, some of which are displayed in Figure 11. As shown in the figure, African–American and Native American children are significantly more likely to be the subject of a substantiated maltreatment report and enter foster care as compared to White, Latino, or Asian/Pacific Islander children. … African–American and Native American children are also less likely to reunify with their families than White, Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander children. Further, African–American children have less stability in their foster care placements on average than children of all other races/ethnicities.”

Interesting that the cohabitation rate seems pretty constant across races except for Asians
From the Washington Post: The White-Black Income Gap hasn’t Budged in Years states, “Seventy-four percent of White, non-Hispanic, 59 percent of Hispanic, and 33 percent of Black children lived with two married parents in 2012.” That leaves 77% of black kids living with one parent or no parents; 77-55= 22% of black kids living with no parents. A large% of those kids live with grandparents, aunts, or other relatives, but a lot are in foster care.

Black marriage rates:

The disparity in male and female marriage rates is partially explained by black men marrying white women at a higher rate than black women marry white men.

Conservatives like to claim that if black people would just form two-parent families and raise their kids together, black poverty, incarceration, drug use, low SAT scores, etc., would all disappear.

While a bit of stability might help, (or might not, since males commit the vast majority of violence, so you might just trade neglect for physical abuse,) conservatives are probably on the wrong general track.

The quotes at the top of the post, about the Yoruba, are the sort of thing you might read in your anthropology class and come away with the idea that before evil white people showed up, the rest of the world was full of wonderful gender egalitarians who had lovely, enlightened views about childrearing. Even the title of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child,” is supposed to come from an African proverb on child rearing. There’s some controversy over whether or not it is an actual proverb, or just loosely based on one of the many very similar African proverbs, eg, “A child does not grow up only in a single home,” and, “A child belongs not to one parent or home.” (from the Wikipedia page on the book.)

Various conservatives have responded, “No, it takes a family to raise a child,” just showing that no one involved understands tribal family structure, because a “village” in tribal society is an extended family.

But a village isn’t an extended family in the US, which makes the notion of trying to transfer the model to a population where outbreeding has been the norm for over a thousand years, tribalism is almost non-existent, and most people don’t live anywhere near their extended kin (and they are less closely related to their extended kin than people in a tribal society who’ve been marrying their first and second cousins for generations,) sound rather fraught with difficulties.


The rest of the post is meant to caution against seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. Here we have descendants of that same population (plus others) with very similar marriage and child-rearing norms, but the general reaction is completely opposite. What is a sign of the wonderfulness of tribal Africans is considered a sign of degeneracy and/or dysfunction here at home. (It is, of course, a total mystery how the same group of people could come up with the same childrearing and marriage norms while living in totally different times, places, and dominant cultures. /sarcasm)

Here in the US, we can see for ourselves rates of child abuse, malnutrition and neglect (and we think of this as a problem.) Until someone invents a time machine, we’ll have a much more difficult time getting a first-hand view of the pre-colonial Yoruba. (Heck, the vast majority of us don’t even have a first-hand view of the current Yoruba.) I’m sure some colonialists wrote accounts of what they saw when they arrived in the area–but any colonialist account that paints pre-colonialized people in a negative light is generally assumed to be biased and tainted by racism, which makes such accounts not-so-useful for supporting arguments in polite discussion. We’d need some kind of data, and data is often hard to come by.

Here are my own suspicions, though:

The tribal/village structure of these west African communities probably provided enough kin support that families could move children around like this and still have many of them reach adulthood. The system may, in fact, have been superior to just having the kids home with mom. Similar to modern day care, the extended kin network could look after the kids while mom worked in the fields or traveled to other cities to trade or do other work.

This system has low incentives for marital fidelity or monogamy, leading to an excess of males, which helped catapult the slave trade in the first place, though that is beyond the scope of this post.

The tendency toward monogamy or non-monogamy is probably basically genetic, reflecting the environmental/cultural structure one’s ancestors lived in. Your particular moral norms on the subject most likely just reflect whatever was evolutionarily advantageous for your ancestors–anyone who did what wasn’t evolutionarily advantageous didn’t tend to become your ancestor.

However, rates of child abuse/neglect/abandonment/starvation/malnutrition were probably pretty high, just as they are in various communities today. These sorts of unpleasant details just don’t tend to show up in accounts that are trying to cast their subjects in a positive light, and frankly, horrible rates of infant mortality were so common in the past as to be unremarkable to many observers.

Here in the US, the system is less functional because, for starters, there are few African American men with large farms for their wives to raise crops on. People who would have been on the top of the social pile in Yorubaland, people who had all of the traits necessary to be a successful, thriving, happy member of Yoruba society may not have the traits necessary to out-compete, say, Taiwanese immigrants with their nose-to-the grindstone approach to getting their kids into medical school. Living in modern America is also much more expensive than living in a tribal village–the cost of housing, transportation (car), health care, etc., in the US will set you back many a small third world farm. Not to mention different policing standards.

Per capita GDP in modern Nigeria is $3,005.51. This is after tremendous growth; in 2000, it was only $377.50–I’m guessing oil is mostly responsible for the difference, because I recall hearing about a joint venture between the Russian gas company Gazprom and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, so I’d caution against assuming that a ton of that money went to ordinary citizens. Looking backwards, pre-colonial per capita GDP was probably also pretty darn low, with most people engaged in subsistence agriculture.

Our perceptions of “wealth” are entirely dependent on how the other citizens of a society lives–a guy with a fifty acre farm can be “wealthy” in a third-world agricultural society, while “desperately poor” by first world standards. How he sees himself probably has a lot to do with how he sees his neighbors–is he on top of his society, or at the bottom?

Perception matters.

No, hunter gatherers were not peaceful paragons of gender equality

They aren’t today, either.

It seems like people are always trying to use hunter gatherers to further some wacky theory or other. The Paleo Diet isn’t too bad; it is at least a reasonably accurate representation of what hunter-gatherers actually eat, though your chances of replicating hunter-gather food at home are slim–which is why we end up with things like “Paleo Bread.” But then you have the far less accurate theories, often pushed by people who really ought to know better. Like the theory that hunter gatherers had no wars, or that they were all gender egalitarians. Or that there was once a global civilization of feminist goddess-worshipers who were wiped out by evil agriculturalists.

Oh, those evil, evil agriculturalists:

Share of violent deaths, non-state societies vs. state societies
Share of violent deaths, non-state societies vs. state societies
Violence in state and non-state societies
From “The Better Angels of our Nature,” by Steven Pinker


But let’s backtrack a minute. Where do these wacky theories come from?

The short answer is that they come from Marxists. You may laugh or roll your eyes, but I was actually assigned Das Kapital twice in college–once in my major, political science, and once in my minor, anthropology. I was also assigned explicitly Marxist papers in my Feminism class. This was a reputable university where many of my professors were identifiably conservative, not an obvious liberal bastion like Berkley or Reed.

Marx is deep in academia.

You do not have to be explicitly citing Marx or realize that you are using theories of the world derived from Marx to be using one of Marx’s theories, anymore than you have to have studied the Chicago School of Economics or the Austrian School to pick up one of their theories and start using it. But most academics of the past 100 years or so have known the intellectual provenance of their ideas, because like me, they were assigned it in class and no one in academia is shy about explicitly citing Marx.

To be honest, I don’t hate Marx’s theories. I enjoy Bakunin better than Marx, but I understand Marx’s attempt at making a science out of economic history. Not a terribly rigorous science, unfortunately.

This isn’t the time or place for a full explanation of where exactly Marx went wrong–there are far better authors than me who have spilled plenty of ink on the subject if you want to take a look. But suffice to say, real-life experience has not been terribly kind to Marx’s theories. Nonetheless, they still undergird a great deal of academic thinking and were formative in the educations of many, many anthropologists.

And the basic thought process went like this:

Jesus Effin’ Christ, WWII was the most awful, worst thing ever. Nazis are horrifying, racist scum. We need different theories.

Marxism explains human behavior through entirely environmental means, namely the means of production (ie, whether you live in a hunter-gatherer, agricultural, industrial, etc., kind of society.)

Marxism says that humans have wars because capitalists make them–that is, war is a side effect of capitalist society.

Therefore, in the pre-capitalist society, people didn’t have wars.

And then academics went and wrote a lot of things about how they now realized that pre-state people didn’t have wars or violence or were ever mean to each other.

Alas, many a beautiful theory has been destroyed by an ugly fact, and the ugly fact in this case is that pre-state people killed each other all the damn time. Take the Dorset, completely wiped out by the Thule (Inuit) about 700 years ago:

The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic
The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic, from

Science 29 August 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6200 DOI: 10.1126/science.125583,  Maanasa Raghavan et al.


Those blue bars represent Dorset DNA found in ancient gravesites around the arctic. The red guys represent Thule (Inuit) DNA. The Dorset are gone; their DNA did not make it into the Thule.

Anthropologists and archaeologists have spent the last 70 years or so arguing that if you find one kind of pots in one layer of your excavation, and radically different pots in the next layer, all it means is that people traded for some different pots. In the case of the Dorset, it means the Thule killed them all, a good 200 years before Columbus even set foot anywhere near Cuba.

Speaking of Columbus, he wrote of the Indians he met in the Bahamas, “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves.”

But what of other hunter-gatherers?

According to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica,

“[The Bushman’s] courage is remarkable, and Fritsch was told by residents who were well qualified to speak that supported by a dozen Bushmen they would not be afraid of a hundred Kaffirs. The terror inspired by the Bushmen has indeed had an effect in the deforestation of parts of Cape Colony, for the colonists, to guard against stealthy attacks, cut down all the bush far round their holdings.

Marriage is a matter merely of offer and acceptance ratified by a feast. Among some tribes the youth must prove himself an expert hunter. Nothing is known of the laws of inheritance. … As among other African tribes the social position of the women is low. They are beasts of burden, carrying the children and the family property on the journeys, and doing all the work at the halting-place. It is their duty also to keep the encampment supplied with water, no matter how far it has to be carried.”

Yes, clearly they are bastions of peaceful gender egalitarianism!

“A recent study… gave some astonishing cross-cultural figures. The homicide rate in modern Britain is roughly 0.5/100,000; in the USA it is about 20 times as high, at about 10.5. The highest death rate recorded in a nation, as opposed to a tribe, is 34 / 100,000, in Colombia. Though it is difficult to calculate exact correspondences for much smaller populations, about whom much less is known, it is still clear that Stone Age tribes make up in enthusiasm what they lack in the technology of murder. Even the !Kung bushmen, popularised as “The Harmless People”, had a had a homicide rate of 41.9 on this scale; the Yanomamo come in at 165. The record appears to be held by the Hewa people of New Guinea, with a score of 778. … the Murngin hunter-gatherer aborigines of Northern Australia come in with a score of 330.” –from The Darwin Wars, by Andrew Brown, (you can find excerpts on Brown’s promotional website for the book.)

Of the Yanomamo, Brown notes, ” There are fashions in noble savages as in other things, and the Yanomamo, a warlike and intermittently cannibal tribe living on the borders of Brazil and Venezuela, are one of the most heavily studied and nastiest in their habits of all the unspoiled people in the Seventies and Eighties. …

The tribes are quite exceptionally violent and sexist. The Yanomamo term for marriage translates literally as “dragging something away”; their term for divorce is “throwing something away.” [My emphasis, not Brown’s.] Villages war with villages; villagers with each other. They use poisoned arrows, spears and wooden clubs. When nothing much seems to be happening in the world outside, villagers will fight with long poles: two men will stand facing each other, and exchange insults. Then they will take turns to punch each other in the chest as hard as possible. Finally they take up long flexible poles, and — once more taking turns — smash each other around the head with them until the loser is felled, unconscious and bleeding all over his head. To quote one lurid description: “A man with a special grudge against another challenges his adversary to hit him on the head with an eight foot long pole shaped like a pool cue. The challenger sticks his own pole in the ground, leans on it, and bows his head. His adversary holds his pole by the thin end, whipping the heavy end down on the proffered pate with bone-crushing force. Having sustained one blow, the recipient is entitled to an immediate opportunity to wallop his opponent in the same manner.”

And if we go back to the data cited at the top of the post, Steven Pinker estimates, in The Better Angels of our Nature, that about 15% of people died of violence–murder or warfare–in pre-state societies.

This is about the same % as the Russians lost in WWII, if we go with the high estimate of Soviet casualties–about half that if we take the low estimate. Of course, hunter gatherers live to be about 45, while WWII was compressed into 6 years, so the death rate was rather faster during WWII, but if you did manage to survive, you lived the rest of your 60 or 70 years in relative peace.


In short, Marx obviously missed some major factors that lead people to kill each other, and anthropologists, not necessarily trained in things like analyzing crime statistics, ran with the idea, producing books with titles like “The Harmless People” about the Bushmen.

Unfortunately, wanting something to be true is not the same as it being true.

So what’s the real story?

Put yourself in the bare feet of a hunter-gatherer, unfettered by the rules and oppressions of the modern state. You meet a random stranger. Kill him, and you can take his pile of nuts, his gourd of water, and his wife. Don’t kill him, and he can kill you and take your nuts, water, and wife. There are no police in your society, so who’s going to stop you?

Throughout pre-history, the men who killed their neighbors and took their wives became your ancestors, and the men who didn’t got killed.

“Citing recent DNA research, Dr. Baumeister explained that today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. Maybe 80 percent of women reproduced, whereas only 40 percent of men did.”–Is There Anything Good About Men?

1 in 200 people today is descended from Genghis Khan’s immediate family, or perhaps the Great Khan himself. (I challenge you to tell the difference between Genghis’s Y chromosome and his brother’s.)

This is, literally, evolution in action. This is survival of the fittest, the struggle to reproduce and pass your genes on to the next generation.

Interestingly, Genghis Khan’s empire, after the massacres, was supposedly very safe–it was said that a woman carrying a bag of gold could walk unmolested, alone, from one end of the empire to the other. Probably an exaggeration, but in general, you did not mess with Genghis Khan’s money-making trade routes unless you wanted to be dead.

As has been said many times, the State demands a monopoly on the use of violence, punishing–often killing–those who would take the ancestral route to paternity. This is a novel evolutionary pressure–the collective pressure of the state against the violent.

Thus violent crime rates have plummeted in state-societies over the past 5,000 years or so:


(Look, if you find a better graph, let me know.)

Genetic Pacification in England
Genetic Pacification in England, Eisner, 2001

Peter Frost lays out this argument excellently in his post, “The Genetic Pacification of Europe“–basically the idea that European governments have been executing their violent criminals (or otherwise letting them die in jail) for centuries, resulting in a drastic reduction in the prevalence of genes coding for violence in areas with long histories of strong, organized state rule.

According to Wikipedia, monoamine oxidase A, also known as the “warrior gene”, is associated with several types of antisocial behavior.  “…individuals with the low activity MAO-A gene, when faced with social exclusion or ostracism showed higher levels of aggression than individuals with the high activity MAO-A gene. Low activity MAO-A could significantly predict aggressive behaviour in a high provocation situation, but was less associated with aggression in a low provocation situation. Individuals with the low activity variant of the MAO-A gene were just as likely as participants with the high activity variant to retaliate when the loss was small. However, they were more likely to retaliate and with greater force when the loss was large.”

Also, “The frequency distribution of variants of the MAO-A gene differs between ethnic groups. 59% of Black men, 54% of Chinese men, 56% of Maori men, and 34% of Caucasian men carry the 3R allele. 5.5% of Black men, 0.1% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men carry the 2R allele.”

Now, as HBD Chick has pointed out, we aren’t just looking at states at agents of pacification, we’re looking especially at a specific sub-set of states. Like those inside the Hajnal Line, where the Catholic church forbade cousin marriage (one of the preferred forms of marriage throughout the rest of the world, actually,) a thousand and a half or so years ago, leading to the breakup of the barbarian tribal/clan systems and the genetic prerequisites for living in modern states (I assume something functionally kinda similar has happened in China and Japan, since they also have low crime rates, but that requires more research.)

One final point on gender equality, again from Peter Frost:

“According to a survey of 93 nonindustrial cultures, men were expected to dominate their wives in 67% of them, the sexes were expected to be about equal in 30%, and women were expected to dominate their husbands in 3% (Whyte, 1978). Sex roles differ to varying degrees even among hunter-gatherers, who correspond to the earliest stage of cultural evolution. In the tropics, women provide more food through gathering than men do through hunting. The reverse is true beyond the tropics, where women have few opportunities to gather food in winter (Kelly, 1995, pp. 128-132; Martin, 1974, pp. 16-18).”


“English psychologist John T. Manning has pioneered the use of this digit ratio as a way to measure how prenatal male and female hormones influence various behavioral traits. In a recent study, he looked at how prenatal hormones might influence gender equality in different populations. After measuring the digit ratios of participants from 29 countries, his research team averaged the score for each country and compared it with indices of gender equality: women’s share of parliamentary seats; women’s participation in the labor force, women’s education attainment level; maternal mortality rates; and juvenile pregnancy rates. To ensure comparability, all of the participants were of European descent.

… the more similar the two sexes were in 2D:4D, the more equal were the two sexes in parliamentary and labor force participation. The other variables were not as strongly correlated. (Manning et al., 2014)

In general, women from Northwest Europe have more masculine digit ratios, whereas women from farther east and south have more feminine digit ratios. This geographical trend is more pronounced for the right hand than for the left hand. Since the right-hand digit ratio is associated with social dominance, Northwest Europeans may be less sexually differentiated for that particular trait, as opposed to being less sexually differentiated in general.

Presumably, this isn’t a new tendency. Women must have been more socially dominant among Northwest Europeans even before the late 19th century and the earliest movements for women’s suffrage. So how far back does the tendency go? To medieval times? To pre-Christian times? It seems to go back at least to medieval times and, as such, forms part of the Western European Marriage Pattern:

‘The status of women differed immensely by region. In western Europe, later marriage and higher rates of definitive celibacy (the so-called “European marriage pattern”) helped to constrain patriarchy at its most extreme level. 

[…] In eastern Europe however, the tradition of early and universal marriage (usually of a bride aged 12-15 years, with menarche occurring on average at 14) as well as traditional Slavic patrilocal customs led to a greatly inferior status of women at all levels of society. (Women in the Middle Ages, 2014)’ ”


If you’re looking for a peaceful, gender-egalitarian society, don’t look to prehistory, hunter gatherers, or non-state societies. Look at your own country. It’s probably pretty good.

You Probably Aren’t Adapted to the Paleo Diet

Sorry, guys.

Look, I like the Paleo Diet as much as you do–maybe even more than you do. After all, I didn’t name this blog Evolutionist X because I haven’t been reading about paleolithic peoples.

The basic idea of the Paleo Diet–in case you’ve been living under a rock–is that you will be healthier if you eat only veggies, fruit, and meat (no grains or milk products,)–the diet your Paleolithic ancestors evolved to eat.

The problem with the Paleo Diet is that evolution did not stop 10,000 years ago. Evolution is constant. It doesn’t stop. You are not a caveman in a suit. You are a modern person. Unless your grandparents were hunter-gatherers, chances are good that your ancestors have been under significant evolutionary pressure to adapt to agriculture for thousands of years.

For example, Lactase Persistence evolved in dairying populations entirely within the last 10,000 years. Today, 80% of Europeans and European-descended people have the gene for lactase persistence. Outside of traditionally dairying areas, this trait is rare. It has spread entirely in response to the development of dairying–which means that if your ancestors have been raising animals for their milk for the past few thousand years, there is a very good chance that you are adapted to drinking milk well after infancy.

Of course, you’re probably not going to hurt yourself drinking water instead.

Likewise for wheat; if your ancestors have been eating wheat for thousands of years, you can probably digest it okay. If your ancestors haven’t been eating wheat for thousands of years, then you might want to avoid it–a Vietnamese friend of mine gets stomach aches from eating wheat (especially whole wheat, which contains more of the irritating chemicals from the external part of of the grain, designed to inspire your stomach to pass out the seed within without digesting it). Their ancestors ate rice, not wheat, so this is hardly surprising. (They also are lactose intolerant, since their ancestors did not keep dairy cows.) However, they have no difficulties digesting rice–a food they are adapted to eat.

If you aren’t adapted to wheat, wheat will give you a stomach ache. If wheat gives you a stomach ache, avoid it! But if your ancestors ate wheat and it doesn’t give you a stomach ache, you’ll probably be safe eating it.

It is reasonable to ask whether there are long-term bad effects from eating wheat or drinking milk–some disease that doesn’t kick in until you’re in your 70s, for example, would be difficult to develop adaptations to combat because it kills you after you’ve already had all of your kids. On this count, I would love to see more research.

Also, there may be some people who, like the 20% or so of Europeans who lack lactase persistence, are particularly sensitive to various foods. People with the ApoE4 gene (the “Alzheimer’s Gene”) may benefit from specific dietary modifications.

However, there’s no particular reason to believe that you are all that well-adapted to eating a diet your ancestors haven’t eaten in thousands of years.

Autism Exists Because Math is a Recently Evolved Ability

This is a theory.

We know mathematics is a recently evolved ability–all human groups can talk and compose stories, (even groups without written language,) but many groups do not even have words for numbers over three.

Out of the 200,000 years or so that anatomically modern humans have been around, no one bothered to invent written numbers until about 6,000 years ago; algebra didn’t really take off until about 1,000 years ago; calculus was invented about 400 years ago.

The ability to do any kind of abstract mathematics beyond the four basic operations is most likely a very newly acquired human skill–selection for higher math ability would have been virtually impossible prior to the invention of math, after all.

The thing about newly acquired skills is that evolution tends not to have worked out all of the kinks, yet. Things your ancestors have done consistently (including your parents) for the last 100,000 years will probably involve some decent genetic code. Things your ancestors did for millions of years will involve even better code. Things humans have been doing for only 400 years will probably involve some very kludgey code that might have some shitty side effects. Avoiding malaria comes immediately to mind–sickle cell anemia might help you avoid malaria, but it’s a pretty crappy adaptation overall. By contrast, animals have had circulatory systems for a long time; the code that builds circulatory systems is pretty solid.

Since math is a recently acquired skill, we’d expect at least some of the genes that makes people better at math to be a little, well, wonky.

It is probably no coincidence that people with extremely high math abilities have a reputation for being total weirdos, while people with very high verbal abilities–say, published authors–are regarded as pretty normal.

There are a few obvious ways to make people better at a particular task. You could take some neural real estate away from other tasks and assign it to the one you want. We know we can do this “environmentally,” (Phantom Limb Syndrome appears to be caused by the missing limb’s brain area being re-purposed for other tasks, such that when you do those other tasks, your brain simultaneously registers the activity as information coming from the limb); it seems reasonable that some sort of coding could do it genetically. Alternatively, you could increase neural speed or density or something. Or perhaps the overall size of the brain.

Each of these possibilities could also have some negative side effects–bigger brains kill mothers; re-purposing mental real estate could leave you unable to do some other function, like fine-motor control or talking.

Autism appears to basically do some set of these things (it seems to increase neural density, at least.) People with a small amount of autistic traits end up better at math than they would be otherwise. People with too many, though, suffer negative side effects–like struggling with verbal tasks. (It’s no particular surprise that autistic people tend to come from families with high math ability.) Autism is probably another mental trait that makes sense in a Sickle Cell Anemia sense.

Memes are Genes

The idea that people chose their religion is obviously false, at least when looking at non-Western religions. If people chose their religions, we would expect religious beliefs to be basically randomly distributed across the face of the planet. There’d be tons of Neo-Pagans running around in Pakistan, and Hindus in Bogota. There’d be essentially no correlation between parents’ religion and their childrens’ religions, and we could not speak of wide swathes of the planet united into cultural zones with single religious beliefs.

In reality, religion is transmitted so reliably from parent to child and within cultural zones that, outside of parts of the west, it is nearly as reliable as genetic inheritance. You no more expect to find Neo-Pagans in Pakistan than blue eyes, and if you do find a Neo-Pagan in Pakistan, there’s a good chance they *do* have blue eyes, or are otherwise not ethnically Pakistani.

It is of course useful to be able to critique religious beliefs, and I believe that people should critique religious beliefs, but the idea that the average person chooses their relion is nonsense.

When Enthusiasm was a Dirty Word

Apparently, back in the 1600s and 1700s, the English decided that enthusiasm was bad. Too much political or religious enthusiasm was blamed for causing the English Civil War, and so being enthusiastic about such things was looked down upon. “Enthusiasm” became a pejorative term for advocating political or religious causes in public.

I would not be surprised to find that many of the more enthusiastic-personalitied Brits immigrated to the US as a result, leaving their calmer brethren behind, and contributing to the development of our respective national characters.