Dark Winters ‘Led to Bigger Human Brains and Eyeballs’

Judith Burns, BBC, July 27, 2011

Humans living at high latitude have bigger eyes and bigger brains to cope with poor light during long winters and cloudy days, UK scientists have said.

The Oxford University team said bigger brains did not make people smarter.

Larger vision processing areas fill the extra capacity, they write in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters journal.

The scientists measured the eye sockets and brain volumes of 55 skulls from 12 populations across the world, and plotted the results against latitude.

Lead author Eiluned Pearce told BBC News: “We found a positive relationship between absolute latitude and both eye socket size and cranial capacity.”

The team, from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, used skulls dating from the 1800s kept at museums in Oxford and Cambridge.

The skulls were from indigenous populations ranging from Scandinavia to Australia, Micronesia and North America.

Largest brain cavities

The largest brain cavities came from Scandinavia, while the smallest were from Micronesia.

Eiluned Pearce said: “Both the amount of light hitting the Earth’s surface and winter day-lengths get shorter as you go further north or south from the equator.

“We found that as light levels decrease, humans are getting bigger eye sockets, which suggests that their eyeballs are getting bigger.

“They are also getting bigger brains, because we found this increase in cranial capacity as well.

“In the paper, we argue that having bigger brains doesn’t mean that high-latitude humans are necessarily smarter. It’s just they need bigger eyes and brains to be able to see well where they live.”

The work indicates that humans are subject to the same evolutionary trends that give relatively large eyes to birds that sing first during the dawn chorus, or species such as owls that forage at night.

Co author Prof Robin Dunbar said: “Humans have only lived at high latitudes in Europe and Asia for a few tens of thousands of years, yet they seem to have adapted their visual systems surprisingly rapidly to the cloudy skies, dull weather and long winters we experience at these latitudes.”

The team took into account the overall body size of each individual by measuring the foramen magnum–the hole in the base of the skull that attaches to the spinal column.

They also controlled for the possibility that the larger eye sockets were needed for extra fat around the eyeball to insulate them from freezing temperatures.

The team intends to do more work on establishing a firm link between eyeball size and enhanced visual processing areas in the brain, and to replicate the link found in the 55 original skulls with further study on specimens from other museums.

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  • Anonymous

    “In the paper, we argue that having bigger brains doesn’t mean that high-latitude humans are necessarily smarter. It’s just they need bigger eyes and brains to be able to see well where they live.”

    Yes of course. They will argue black is white but can never admit what we all know.

    I suppose its just a coincidence that Africans still live in huts and people further north built Rome. Must be because their eyes were smaller.

  • Xman

    It might be worth performing a similar research on animal species too, from various latitudes. It’s fine if reality tells us that larger brains doesn’t necessarily mean smarter, assuming that the increase doesn’t result in increase in neural networks BUT is that the case ? Are they saying it because they feel they have to or do they really have evidence to either prove or believe on those lines is the question.

    Also, does this research mean blacks have smaller eye sockets than Chinese ? It sure doesn’t look that way to me though the East Asians might have thin elongated eyes that have greater area or volume than the Africans.

  • ice

    “The team intends to do more work on establishing a firm link between eyeball size and enhanced visual processing areas in the brain, and to replicate the link found in the 55 original skulls with further study on specimens from other museums.”

    And, if, during the process of all this, they somehow stumble upon the fact that a larger cranial capacity has a direct correlation to intelligence, then they’ll follow their usual procedure and lie about it to make certain the information goes no further.

    But, if it would somehow leak out, then the person responsible for the leak will be demonized so badly he’ll wish he were dead until he recants. You know, like Dr. Watson who said that considering black intelligence on a par with whites was invalid until he was demonized so badly he retracted his statement and became politically correct in less than a heartbeat.

    The smear machine in leftist camps is a sight to behold and works non-stop 24/7 to courageously move upward and onward to assure the truth never gets out.

    They just hate it when actual physical evidence is there for all to see, like King Tut’s reconstructed skull showing him with caucasoid features rather than a flat nose, thick lips and an afro. They’re beside themselves with resentment and worry at times like those.

  • Wayne Engle

    Bigger brains don’t mean smarter people? Sure — just like bigger muscles don’t mean stronger people. This smacks of “political correctness.”

    Guess who didn’t live for any long periods at high, cold, dark altitudes? Bingo! Sub-Saharan Africans! I can just imagine these scientists, aghast at what their findings might suggest to many people with common sense, scrambling to find some way of saying, “But it doesn’t mean Whites are any smarter than blacks!” — without actually saying it.

  • Anonymous

    Bigger brains don’t correlate with higher intelligence? Dear me! That means that the human species is an outlier in another aspect from all the rest of the animal kingdom! Human exceptionalism triumphs again! http://tinyurl.com/yskvdv [2007 Swiss university study re: brain size and intelligence]:

    The new study compared how well eight different brain size measures [in non-human primates] predicted the domain-general cognition variable generated in the earlier study. To the researchers’ surprise, overall brain size and overall neocortex size proved to be good predictors, but the various measures that controlled for body size did not. The results did not change even when various statistical assumptions were altered.

  • Dutchman

    Oxford scientists, trying hard to be PC, inadvertently undermine the myth that race is a ‘social construct’!

    I find it laughable that these scientists, obviously far better educated than a mere human like myself, deny that living in a harsh Ice Age environment would have a positive evolutionary effect on intelligence!

    So what they are saying is that having big eyes is a good mutation to have in the frozen north, but you can have a 60 IQ and survive just as well?

  • Spirit Wolf

    Yes, humans are superior to other species because they have big brains and stuff (in proportion to body size, and never mind the cetaceans. They don’t have technology, and don’t live in an environment that is conducive to it, so what would they do with intelligence, we ask? It sort of begs the question of whether or not intelligence _must_ lead to technology, but oh well.)

    But when it comes to differences between human variant groups, brain size doesn’t matter.

    Hmmm.

  • The human body is astounding. Look at all of the components inside one body and try to figure out how it possibly all works. What’s even more cool is that we have nearly two of everything in case something stops working. This being said, it is still necessary to exercise and to eat right. Just because we have two of everything doesn’t mean we should abuse it!

  • Anonymous

    “We found a positive relationship between absolute latitude and both eye socket size and cranial capacity.”

    I guess this explains why Eskimos have smaller asiatic eyes and smaller brains. Latitude has nothing to do with the “evolution” of the White race. Contrary to what the Marxist ideologues assert, the White race spread mostly north and west out of Mesopotamia. Archeological evidence shows that ancient skeletal remains in Persia, Assyria, and adjacent areas are virtually identical to the modern european White race.

    It shouldn’t surprise us that none of this is taught to our children. Instead they are shown scientific “proof” that the White race evolved from African Blacks–when the Blacks left Africa, they somehow lost the pigmentation in their skin; their eyes and brains grew larger; and their noses narrowed, their hair straightened. Too bad there is absolutely zero evidence of Africans migrating anywhere outside their own lands, especially up into europe.

  • Great Dane

    Yes as the other posts have stated. Animal brain size is directly related to intelligence but with man it is not. Larger brain more capacity. But I am Scandinavian and I dont have Big Eyes but I do have a big brain.

  • Anonymous

    So if all these extra brains are about being able to see better, or even see better in the dark why can’t white people see better, or even see better in the dark?

  • paul

    guess why they didn’t live for long periods in cold environments? They dropped dead as soon as it got cold. Living through winter takes planning and we know blacks are great at that.

  • WR the elder

    Large brains have some obvious costs. Your brain uses up about 20% of all the energy your body produces, which is wasteful and disadvantageous during times of starvation. Having a big brain in adulthood requires that babies have large heads, making child birth unusually painful and dangerous in humans. Despite being born with relatively large brains human babies still have to develop their brains much further, which is why humans have the longest time of helplessness and dependency upon adults of any mammal. So obviously humans would not develop big brains unless there was some clear evolutionary advantage to doing so — it wouldn’t happen as a matter of random genetic drift. Now what could that advantage be? Well, there’s the obvious one of making us smarter, but that is not acceptable to current day politically correct scientists because is is well established that whites have bigger brains on average than blacks.

  • aj

    It seems plausible to me. I mean a blue whale probably has a brain larger than an entire human yet is undoubtedly less intelligent. A seven foot tall Kenyan marathon runner probably has a larger body, and with that larger body, a larger brain than say your typical 5 foot tall Chinese person, but is probably much less intelligent.

    We shouldn’t be so petty and insecure to have to try to “prove” scientifically that we are intelligent, let actions and accomplishments speak for themselves.

  • jewamongyou

    How convenient! Only very recently was it discovered that Stephen Gould’s accusations against Samuel Morton – that Morton fudged data to conclude that Caucasian skulls had a larger average capacity than black skulls – was shown to be false. Now we know that Morton was right after all. (http://goo.gl/RdVqe).

    That leaves the forces of orthodoxy in a quandary. What to do… what to do… “I know!” one of them shouts. “Let’s admit that Northerners have larger brains, since we can’t hide it any more, but claim that the extra brain is for SEEING!”

    Do whites see better than blacks? I do not believe there is any evidence of this. But the next logical step, after this study, would be to check. Don’t hold your breath…

    http://www.jewamongyou.wordpress.com

  • Mike H.

    Yes, which is why brain size doesn’t match up with IQ.

    Wait a second…

    Naturally, it never occurred to the team to think that, since it’s much harder to survive in colder climates and higher altitudes, that enhanced intelligence was needed in addition to enhanced eye sight.

  • Anonymous

    I understand that large eyes are needed for low light conditions to pick up more photons. But why would a larger optical processing capacity in the brain be needed?

    Also have these politically correct scientifics shown that the increased cranial capacity is devoted only to processing optical information? Since all major races now inhabit the U.K. and brain scan equipment is available, this study should have been done before the study was published. Just think of the liberal triumph, if this study proved that the smaller African brain only produces reduced optical processing capacity, not reduced intellectual capacity.

  • Bill

    I agree that cold winters and harsher environments helped lead to the higher intelligence of Europeans and Asians, but I do not think this is the whole story. If it were that easy, one could go as far as to say Europeans who evolved in colder climates (Scandinavia) should be smarter than Europeans who evolved in warmer climates (Greece). But all of ancient and modern history screams this not to be true. To be honest the Mediterranean region seems to be the birth place of true human genius: Greeks, Romans, Jews, Spaniards, Egytians, etc. Scandinavias were largely regarded as barbarians throughout most of history (Vikings, Vandals, etc) though I believe this to be inaccurate.

    I am not an anthropologist or scientist but my guess is that societal pressures also created a mechanism for selecting intelligence among ancient European polutations; not just cold weather. The land around the Mediterranean Sea seems to historically be prime real estate that was constantly being conquered and reconquered. If you were a weak, dopey population then you probably didn’t last long. If you were strong, intelligent, productive, and had an average intelligence high enough to maintain a complex, advanced civilization, then you created Rome.

    Long story short, Europeans north, south, east, and west continuously had their abilities pushed upward through harsh climate and war.

  • R CROSS

    It is significant tha while larger brain size “does not increase intelligence”lol,we managed with our puny intellect to build the greatest civilisation that the world has ever seen,while those with smaller brains,”whose intelligence is not diminished”,built?

  • Anonymous

    “we argue that having bigger brains doesn’t mean that high-latitude humans are necessarily smarter.”

    Yea, right, so how come people in the Northern latitudes have higher IQ’s?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ_and_the_Wealth_of_Nations

    Anyone would think we evolved in caves. There is plenty of light in the North.

    This is just an excuse to cover up an inconvenient truth.

  • shaunantijihad

    Clearly the faculty of sight is more important than abstract thought or innate intelligence when it comes to inventing sea-going vessels, written language or the wheel.

    Amazing.

  • Anonymous

    I am not sure if the observation relating to eye sizes is correct. In India, the Dravidians (who live South, closer to the equator) have bigger eyes than the lighter skinned people of the North.

    Also, in my opinion, Vietnamese and Filipino have rounder, bigger eyes than the Japanese or Koreans. Only epicanthic folds are present in some races living at northern latitudes.

    Or am I missing something?

  • Anonymous

    Dim light conditions would lead to adaptations within the eyes themselves, not the brain. Such adaptations are found in a variety of nocturnal animals (that lead to eyeshine when facing a bright light).

    If you use the analogy of a camera, you use a greater exposure time, not more megapixels.

    Forget the part about intelligence, even the basic premise of the article seems flawed.

  • olewhitelady

    It always seemed to me that Indians have the largest eyes. Maybe Sureesh (sp?) could comment.

    Anyway, the article makes the point that it’s referring to eye SOCKETS, which could be filled largely with cold-fighting fat deposits. Also, think about the eyelids of Northern Asians.

    Anyway, saying that big eyes make one see better is like arguing that a man is more potent or fertile because he is well endowed. And saying that a large brain makes one see better indicates a belief that a great portion of the brain is involved in the sense of sight. It’s ludicrous! When I think about such a concept, it causes me to picture some B-movie alien with an all-eye head!

    Scientists naturally want to announce and write about their findings and theories. Now, however, there must always be an accompanying statement that the pronouncements don’t mean that blacks are, in any way, inferior.

    And, by the way, the largest human skulls ever found were those of Neanderthals.

  • Fer de Lance

    The Oxford University team said bigger brains did not make people smarter.

    In the paper, we argue that having bigger brains doesn’t mean that high-latitude humans are necessarily smarter.

    Editor to author:

    Uh, make the “bigger brains not smarter” statement either the first or second paragraph and then repeat at least one more time in case Orwell’s Thought Police are reading these things — we don’t want to get “Watsoned” or see our funding dried up or denied in the future.

    But, for the record, for your eyes only, and as Phil has repeatedly pointed out:

    The overall correlation between IQ and brain size measured by MRI is 0.44. This is much higher than the 0.20 correlation found in earlier research using simple head size measures (though 0.20 is still significant). The MRI brain size/IQ correlation of 0.44 is as high as the correlation between social class at birth and adult IQ.

    I trust you will burn this after reading, after all, if one goes down, so do we all.

    Here’s hoping to better future where the truth won’t be suppressed and

    we’ll be able to speak and write freely without having to be vigilant about Big Brother. Shame that Orwell was correct.

  • Tim K

    “Also, does this research mean blacks have smaller eye sockets than Chinese ? It sure doesn’t look that way to me though the East Asians might have thin elongated eyes that have greater area or volume than the Africans.”

    – You have to look at the skulls, not the final fleshed-out result, to determine the socket size.

  • Whiteplight

    13 — WR the elder wrote at 10:30 PM on July 27:

    …..” but that is not acceptable to current day politically correct scientists because is is well established that whites have bigger brains on average than blacks.”

    Good post. But I would like to point out that scientists are being held captive by PC, not promoting it. The leftist conditions in the UK make such research tantamount to heresy, and the new Inquisition could make criminal charges of promoting hatred and cut off funding altogether if these scientists make too honest, or too complete an interpretation of their findings.

  • Mike B.

    These anthropologists aren’t scientists. They are cultural Marxists.

    Anthropology is nothing more than one of the ‘soft’ sciences (e.g. Sociology, psychology, ‘ethnic’ studies, etc., etc.).

    Next thing you know, the paleontologists will be lecturing us on how some dinosaurs had larger pea brains than other dinosaurs, which enabled them to invent infrared and thermal sights, so they could spot their prey better in the dark. Of course, the New York Times and The Guardian will pick up this story and immediately attribute it to the ‘racism’ of the white dinosaurs directed at the black dinosaurs.

    [Hey – don’t laugh! What I just postulated is no more ridiculous than what the original article on top postulated.]

  • Henry

    I’m a doctor and I’ve been testing the visual acuity of people of all ethnicities for forty years. I have found that Blacks have much better vision than Whites, at all ages. Just check how many Whites, compared to Blacks, need spectacles.

    Also, the part of the brain we see with is the hindbrain (occiput), so, if this theory was sound, one would expect Caucasian skulls to have bigger occipital areas, which is not the case. My theory is that Caucasian skulls are bigger because we interbred with Neanderthals, who had 1500cc brains compared to our 1350cc.

    It is a sad day when scientific discovery first has to go through a pc filter before being presented.