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Shrinking Brain in Humans

Scientists are alarmed by shrinking of the human brain

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A study published earlier this year confirmed what scientists have long believed to be the case – the human brain is shrinking.  For more than 7 million years the hominid brain has grown increasingly bigger, almost tripling in size.  But for the last 10,000 years, the human brain has been shrinking at an alarming rate and no one really knows why. New research has attempted to answer this question by examining size changes in specific regions of the brain.

The study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology was carried out by a team of Chinese researchers who looked at over 500 endocasts from the past 7,000 years. Endocasts are moulds of brains created from the imprints on the inside of the skull. They are an invaluable resource when studying human evolution, allowing us to track how our brain has evolved over the past few million years.  The results confirmed what has long been suspected – our brains are getting smaller.

 

It was in 2010 when researching a skull that belonged to a Cro Magnon man that scientists first discovered the brain of our ancient ancestor was significantly larger than humans today. This has been replicated time and again and it can now be said that the human brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimetres (cc) to 1,350cc, irrespective of gender and race.  If we continue on this path, we will end up having the same-sized brain as Homo Erectus, an ancient human species which had a brain of 1,100 cc.

Does a smaller brain mean less intelligence?

Scientists have been debating for many years about whether a smaller brain means less intelligence, and no agreement has been reached.  To clarify, it is not simply the size of the brain that is relevant here, but the size of the brain in relation to body size, referred to as the Encephalization Quotient (EQ).  Research has found a close relationship between intelligence and EQ. 

Over millions of years, the hominid body has been shrinking but the worrying fact is that our brains are shrinking faster than our bodies. Does this mean human beings are getting dumber, or are smaller brains not necessarily bad?

The human brain is shrinking faster than the shrinkage of the body

The human brain is shrinking faster than the shrinkage of the body. Image credit: Superscholar.org

Many scientists have argued that bigger doesn’t always mean better.  Duke University anthropologist Brian Hare says "the decrease in brain size is actually an evolutionary advantage" because it could indicate we're evolving into a less aggressive animal. For example, the common chimpanzees have bigger brains than bonobos, but they are less likely to resolve issues through teamwork because they're more aggressive. 

Other proponents of the ‘bigger isn’t better’ hypothesis have argued that our ancestors had a larger visual cortex because good vision was necessary for survival. But as social support increased, vision became less important. Those with smaller visual cortexes had more resources available for social regions of the brain, thus increasing chances of survival.

However, the findings of the new study conducted in China are not consistent with these theories because the results indicated that it was not one particular area of the brain that was shrinking – the whole brain has been getting smaller. If the hypothesis about the visual cortex was correct, we should see shrinkage only in that region of the brain.

The one exception is the frontal lobe, which actually seems to be increasing in size. The frontal lobe is the region of the brain responsible for speaking, comprehending the speech of others, reading and writing. It is possible that we are doing a lot more of that now – at least the reading and writing part – compared to our ancient past.

While plenty of hypotheses have been put forward to justify the shrinking of the human brain, there remain many who are less optimistic. The authors of a study published in 2012 maintained that humans lost the evolutionary pressure to be smart once they formed agricultural settlements. 

"A hunter-gatherer who did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died, along with his/her progeny, whereas a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate. Clearly, extreme selection is a thing of the past," the researchers wrote in the journal article published in the journal Trends in Genetics.

More than 4,000 years ago, great civilizations existed around the world and the ancient inhabitants built incredible buildings and cities with great precision and beauty, often with astronomical alignments that we are only just beginning to realise. Nowadays, technology has taken over, rendering our need to apply skill, creativity, and memory virtually redundant. Instead of memorising navigational routes we switch on our ‘sat navs’ and rather than storing phone numbers and addresses in our memory banks, we have them all to hand on our iPhones and Blackberries.  Our technology is evolving rapidly, but sadly it seems that we are not.

By April Holloway

Comments

Of course, in a situation like that, we are bound to lose intelligence as much we lose muscle when we don't use it. only you some how lose intelligence, because we have smaller brain with increased intelligence. Your statments We... only show your lack of knowledge.
"We use glasses instead of exercizing our eyes" many refractive errors are due to shape of cornea not muscle only some of them are from using near subject but only small % of all refractive errors.
"We use artificial light instead " from when people use artificial light when fire was invented.
"We use calculators instead of calculating ourselves." again since abacus was invented
"We use maps instead of measuring distances with our eyes and feet" I dont even know how comment this you use map to measuring distances? I use to find location.
"We are far removed from our food and water, it is processed, genetically altered, filled with antibiotics, poisons, products we don't even know enough about." here is true you really " don't even know enough about" but dont think that others also. When you wrote about something read about that firs antibiotics animals are slaughteredafter they detox antibiotics so you will get very low amount iif any. poisons- first rule of toxicology the dose make poison, and lower dose can be beneficial read about hormesis also you think that something natural cannot be toxic in proper dose? look at bella donna and others herbs shrooms etc. "We are far removed from our food and water" read about how many people was poisoned by water in ancient times compared to our times this called by you poisons protect you against this bacterias. "We don't care about the geometry of our houses, offices, temples, as long as it fits our immediate needs, it's fine."you get evil spirit from that....what does this have to do with our brains? "We take medication for everything instead of figuring out the source of our problems" people treat thersefl by herbs which are also medication look at traditional chinese medicine from how long they use herbs to heal. "We are constantly compensating, letting the world change or suffer so that we cease to change and suffer. Of course, in a situation like that, we are bound to lose intelligence as much we lose muscle when we don't use it." the biggest stupidity I read in this month. So compared to you people wich customize environment to their need use magic no inteligence? Thats why our inteligence increase because we use our brains to change world for us, so we use more brains than in past ours body dont evolve because our brains do creating world for us, and smallest brain means that have better connection and can work more effective. Of course you most likely dont use your brain (your comment show that) so you are at risk to lose him. In conclusion you want to show some intelligence but turned out you only shows your incompetence.

We use glasses instead of exercizing our eyes.
We use artificial light instead of adapting ourselves for the night. We block the stars.
We use calculators instead of calculating ourselves.
We use maps instead of measuring distances with our eyes and feet.
We are far removed from our food and water, it is processed, genetically altered, filled with antibiotics, poisons, products we don't even know enough about.
We don't care about the geometry of our houses, offices, temples, as long as it fits our immediate needs, it's fine.
We take medication for everything instead of figuring out the source of our problems.
We disregard nature completely
We are constantly compensating, letting the world change or suffer so that we cease to change and suffer. Of course, in a situation like that, we are bound to lose intelligence as much we lose muscle when we don't use it.

You reference is the best I wrote about this in past comments someone wrote very good coment that I dont need add anything "brain size has to do with the size of the organism. This is stupid, Especially when he says things like " unequivocal proof " followed by "couldn't review enough brain scans to obtain definitive results" ... yeah no kidding, cuz there is a vast amount of evidence that correlates brain size to body size. It's observable in mammals and you can trace it archaeologically looking at hominin evolution. A huge portion of your brain runs autonomic functions" "There is no proof... the proof is simple and I can give you maturation of brain (mostly grey matter) "There is plenty of research linking the brain size to intelligence. Here is another example:" and even one from them cannot proof if the correlation is causal Nisbett et al. 2012b, and most of them show IQ correlates more with gray matter volume which I wrote you that when brain mature lose size in grey matter Allen et al., 2002 found that brain volumes do not correlate strongly with other and more specific cognitive measures. Nisbett et al. 2012b Evidence conflicts on the question of whether brain size variation also predicts intelligence between siblings, with some studies finding moderate correlations and others finding none, whats more the same author found that crude brain size is unlikely to be a good measure of IQ, for example brain size also differs between men and women, but without documented differences in IQ "There is no proof for what Brian Hare suggests (and there will never be), it is just a theory." science always start in theory

"The less you use your brain the smaller it becomes, that’s also plain evolution theory (devolution in our case) – whatever is not needed is discarded" mostly because lose connection but many mentall disease increase grey matter and after treatments this regions shows decreased size which correlate with improvment. Even in this article you can find statments that many claims about size is wrong "Many scientists have argued that bigger doesn’t always mean better. Duke University anthropologist Brian Hare says "the decrease in brain size is actually an evolutionary advantage" because it could indicate we're evolving into a less aggressive animal. For example, the common chimpanzees have bigger brains than bonobos, but they are less likely to resolve issues through teamwork because they're more aggressive." Also read new article "Beware, Playing Lots of Chess Will Shrink Your Brain!" which shows like they state what I also point you "Moreover, localised brain shrinkage can be a sign of increased neural efficiency. Also it’s worth remembering how, through adolescence, our brains don’t just keep getting bigger and bigger; rather they undergo a massive pruning back of excess grey matter."

johnblack's picture

Darek, no matter the degrees you have ... this won't change the fact the brain size is linked to intelligence. Maybe not 100%, but it is linked. Don't forget that our big step in evolution as humans was doubling our brain capacity... Of course brain size also depends on the body size.

You brought the example with huskies being more intelligent. That is also not true. Been able to communicate with humans and adjust to human behaviour does not make them more intelligent, because during this process they have lost major skills that wolves have.

There is no proof for what Brian Hare suggests (and there will never be), it is just a theory.

Now back to humans, having no major change in human body size and suddenly our brains beginning to shrink … then this becomes an issue. And it is a fact the IQ is decreasing, it is not a matter of debate.

The less you use your brain the smaller it becomes, that’s also plain evolution theory (devolution in our case) – whatever is not needed is discarded.

There is plenty of research linking the brain size to intelligence. Here is another example:

http://www.livescience.com/19692-genes-brain-size-intelligence.html

Please ignore my comment to you from darek1001989 wrote on 24 November, 2014 - 01:22 it was accident.

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