This short post is far from comprehensive and is based on much more research than is cited in it. I wrote it in February 2014 at the behest of a friend working in Kampala for the U.S. government.
The controversy regarding the “anti-gay law” in Uganda has turned to the issue of how people become homosexual. As an anthropologist, I’ve studied and taught about gender and sexuality at the university level in the United States, which has positioned me to explain what the research on this complex topic shows.
A homosexual orientation develops after conception and either during pregnancy (which is most likely) or in early childhood. One piece of evidence for this statement is that, despite numerous social influences encouraging a heterosexual orientation, homosexuals typically report feeling homosexual from their earliest memory. That is, there is no moment of conversion.
There is biological evidence that homosexuality develops early, too. Research suggests that there are multiple ways that a fetus or infant can develop into someone who will have a lifelong homosexual orientation. Continue reading
As an article from the Daily Mail points out, early Homo sapiens had bigger brains than we do. Cro-Magnons, living in Europe perhaps as early as 45,000 years ago, had 10 percent more brain than the average human today. (Neanderthals had bigger brains, too, but, unlike those of Cro-Magnons, theirs grew in a differently shaped skull.)
So does this mean that Cro-Magnons and other big-brained earlier humans were smarter than us? Not necessarily, but it also doesn’t mean that they weren’t smarter. Continue reading
Recent research regarding two long-extinct hominin species has received a lot of press lately. Much of it has ridiculously over-interpreted or misinterpreted the published findings. What Sandi Copeland and her collaborators argue officially (article here) is that these species preferred for females to move into new groups after childhood, much like “chimpanzees, bonobos and many human groups”; males, in contrast, mostly remained part of the band into which they were born.
Maybe so – but this impressive research is preliminary. It represents only an initial step in demonstrating that this pattern occurred. And, despite some fun headlines, the species involved are not necessarily our ancestors. So here’s a list of concerns to temper the fanfare: Continue reading
On March 23, 2010, I gave a presentation at Nerd Nite in Washington, DC. The promo read: “No matter how funky Justin Timberlake is, races are not genetic categories. As the great sociologists Rodgers and Hammerstein averred, ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught.’ Hurray for education in the USA! Racial stereotypes seem to be one of the few things that almost every American learns, making race socially but not genetically ‘real.’ We’ll consider all that, including who can jump.” Continue reading
A study of rhesus macaques indicates that males can tell when females are ovulating but that many can do so only with females they know. Basically, females’ faces change “luminance” when they’re fertile. But males are better at perceiving this change when they know what the female looks like at other times. One of the researchers told the New York Times, “I don’t think these things have been studied in humans.” Au contraire.
Indeed, this study reminds me of research that I performed years ago among salsa dancers at a club in Tucson. No, I didn’t study how ovulation influenced their moves. But I did come to similar conclusion: Dancers couldn’t accurately tell whether their partners were flirting with them – or disrespecting them – unless they had a baseline for comparison. Continue reading
A recent article by Nicholas Wade of the New York Times focuses on a new hypothesis regarding the evolutionary divergence of humans from the phylogenetic branch resulting in chimps and bonobos. Much of it is based on suspect assumptions, which I’ll tackle at the end. But the research contains a fascinating observation regarding hunter-gatherers that illustrates just how flexible human behavior is.
The research, headed by Kim S. Hill and Robert S. Walker, compared different present-day bands of hunters and gatherers to test, in part, whether they consisted mostly of close relatives. Then they compared their observations to chimpanzees. Among other findings, sometimes male humans leave their home band to marry and sometimes females do, whereas chimps have a clear pattern of females moving to new bands.
And here, for me, is the highlight, which I’ve italicized: “the human pattern of residency is so variable that it counts as a pattern in itself.” That is, the researchers found the lack of a hard-wired ‘human nature’ (unless flexibility can be said to be hard-wired’). Continue reading