Homo Sapiens Creativity Genes: Our Ancient Secret Survival Weapon
The study of the evolution of genetic networks of Homo sapiens creativity have unravelled the mystery behind the survival of the human race, and helped researchers identify the reason behind the extinction of Neanderthals. A series of 267 genes related to Homo sapiens creativity have been identified by an international team of scientists, guided by the University of Granada that helped the researchers in differentiating Homo sapiens from the chimpanzee and Neanderthals in key ways.
As per the findings of an international team led by University of Granada, which were published in the journal Nature this week, the genes linked to creativity have acted as a “secret weapon” for Homo sapiens and helped them survive and avoid extinction, unlike our Neanderthal cousins. Hence, it appears that creativity has turned out to be the reason for the very survival of the human race.
These 267 genes linked to Homo sapiens creativity are present only in modern humans and seem to have played a significant role in our prehistoric behavioural characteristics, which included self-awareness, health and longevity, cooperativeness and creativity. These traits and social values set us apart from Neanderthals and have helped us foster resilience to disease, injury and ageing, and allowed us to more easily adapt to new environments.
These scientific findings were published in the reputed journal Molecular Psychiatry (Nature). The findings of the research team were part of an interdisciplinary study which involved molecular genetics, psychology, anthropology, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and neuroscience.
A modern human skull (left) compared to a Neanderthal skull. Though the Neanderthal skull is bigger it was Homo sapiens creativity genes that made us different and allowed modern humans to thrive. (hairymuseummatt / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Evolutionary Gene Networks and Homo sapiens Creativity
Hominin genetic networks evolved in stages. The most primitive network, which emerged 40 million years ago among apes and monkeys, was responsible for regulating social attachment, learning of habits, conflict resolution, and impulse regulation.
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About two million years ago, a second gene network emerged that regulated social cooperation and self-direction. We could translate this as the capacity for self-control for mutual benefit.
The third and final network, which emerged 100,000 years ago, was (and continues to be) related to creative self-awareness.
The research study revealed that the oldest network of genes, for emotional reactivity, was almost identical in chimpanzees, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.
The unique 267 genes, which help differentiate Homo sapiens from chimpanzees and Neanderthals, are not protein-coding genes, but RNA regulatory genes.
With the use of gene-expression data, brain magnetic resonance imaging, and genetic markers based on AI techniques, the researchers were able to identify regions of the brain in which those 267 genes were overexpressed. The researchers say that these regions are overwhelmingly associated with human creativity, human self-awareness, and human wellbeing.
It is our creative gene network, which developed about 2 million years ago, that allowed us to outlive the Neanderthals and become the creative people that eventually invented civilization. (pro500 / Adobe Stock)
Our “Secret Weapon:” Hominin Genes Linked to Creativity
A fundamental question of human nature, which had remained unanswered for decades, is what has led to an explosion of creativity in humans just around the time hominins dispersed northward and eastward from Africa.
And by extension, was it our creativity that eventually led to the extinction of Neanderthals and other species of archaic humans?
The latest ground-breaking study, using genomic methodologies, has helped researchers understand the mechanism behind our unique creative sense.
According to the research, our unique “creativity” genes enhanced Homo sapiens inventiveness in scientific undertakings, narrative art, and helped us to become increasingly prosocial.
Genes related to emotional reactivity were the same in Neanderthals, chimps and humans, but the creativity network genes are something only humans have.
Neanderthals stood between Homo sapiens and chimps in the genes of self-awareness and self-control. Based on the study’s conclusion, Neanderthal well-being and adaptability was roughly 60% to 70% of those found in Homo sapiens. This reflects a large fitness difference between them.
After the migration of physically, creative and sociably resilient Homo sapiens from Africa, we displaced other hominid species, including Neanderthals who became extinct 40,000 years ago.
According to the researchers, the unique genes of modern humans were passed on because they led to health, longevity, greater creativity, and prosocial behaviour. It was our healthier lives, longevity and prosocial lifestyle that helped us to support children and other members of our prehistoric communities, under highly variable, harsh conditions. And in unpredictable climatic conditions, with their creativity and innovation, humans were able to adapt more flexibly when compared to other hominids.
Homo sapiens evolution was clearly cooperative and prosocial and this made us more flexible when sudden change, climatic or otherwise, occurred. (patpitchaya / Adobe Stock)
The Latest Research Has Much Promise For More Insights
The researchers concluded that the Homo sapiens learning period, related to adolescence and youth, would have increased our longevity and health, which would have in turn resulted in the capacity to accumulate more knowledge.
This is an important characteristic of modern humans and explains our overwhelming economic and social successes. It appears that our creativity genes may have helped individuals to cooperate better with others, and ultimately helped the community and its descendants achieve success.
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It is the creativity found in the genes of Homo sapiens that subsequently led to human behavioural flexibility, our interest in exploration, and human technological innovations of all kinds.
The latest research has also shown how Artificial Intelligence techniques and bias-free data processing can be used to solve human evolutionary questions.
The latest research results have also opened new avenues of inquiry in this field that can promote the well-being of humans and enhance our creative adaptability in overcoming changing situations.
Top image: When you think of Homo sapiens creativity it is generally cave art that you are thinking of. But creativity is a wide-ranging human capacity that involves many activities and has numerous benefits. Source: Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock
By Prisha Aug
Creativity and community: How modern humans overcame the Neanderthals, Provided by American Museum of Natural History
Zwir, I., Del-Val, C., Hintsanen, M. et al. Evolution of genetic networks for human creativity. Mol Psychiatry (2021). Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-021-01097-y
University of Granada (2021) Genes linked to creativity were the "secret weapon" in the survival of Homo sapiens. Available at: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-04/uog-glt042121.php