Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grumpy people may be more evolved

My son pointed me to work by Wobber et al.  which makes me feel much better about my curmudgeonly nature.  They compared the behavior of Chimpanzees, who can be quite grumpy, that that of Bonobos, who maintain childlike playfulness throughout their lives.  They suggest the chimps' ability to put aside their sociability is one of the reasons they are more intelligent and civilized than their genetically similar great ape cousins.  Perhaps being aggressive, intolerant and short-tempered could be a sign of a more advanced nature! Here is their abstract:
Phenotypic changes between species can occur when evolution shapes development. Here, we tested whether differences in the social behavior and cognition of bonobos and chimpanzees derive from shifts in their ontogeny, looking at behaviors pertaining to feeding competition in particular. We found that as chimpanzees (n = 30) reached adulthood, they became increasingly intolerant of sharing food, whereas adult bonobos (n = 24) maintained high, juvenile levels of food-related tolerance. We also investigated the ontogeny of inhibition during tasks that simulated feeding competition. In two different tests, we found that bonobos (n = 30) exhibited developmental delays relative to chimpanzees (n = 29) in the acquisition of social inhibition, with these differences resulting in less skill among adult bonobos. The results suggest that these social and cognitive differences between two closely related species result from evolutionary changes in brain development.


  1. The findings seem counterintuitive to me. I would think being more social and altruistic represents greater intelligence rather than the other way around.

  2. Katie Kingston9:43 PM

    I don't think that represents greater intelligence.

    Being social and altruistic can and does ensure survival of the species, but too much of it is detrimental to the species, because with too much altruism survival of the fittest suffers.

    As for humans, our brains developed to become the size they are now in order to keep track of larger social networks.

    However, that was a long time ago (during our evolution from more primitive primates into our present species) and where we are now, people waste far too much time on social pursuits that do not benefit the species.

    The social parts of our brains are so large now that we have developed overly complex social rituals than when looked at objectively are nonsensical and do not contribute to evolution, let alone survival (and some are downright detrimental).

    I think being less social represents the next stage in our evolution.

  3. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Re: Katie Kingston

    Contributing as a human today to evolution is just about as pointless as engaging in nonsensical social rituals.