Brain & Cold

raymond hames (rhames@UNLINFO.UNL.EDU)
Sun, 5 Feb 1995 12:05:54 -0600

Forwarded message:
>From rhames Sun Feb 5 12:02:33 1995
From: rhames (raymond hames)
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Brain & Cold
Date: Sun, 5 Feb 1995 12:02:30 -0600 (CST)
Cc: rhames (raymond hames)
In-Reply-To: <> from "Read, Dwight ANTHRO" at Feb 4, 95 05:04:00 pm
X-Mailer: ELM [version 2.4 PL20]
Content-Type: text
Content-Length: 1871

In the current thread on brain development there seems to be a
common assumption among some that cold harsh environments select for
increased intelligence or brain size. The assumption is that tropical
or temperate environments are less demanding intellectually. I
believe we have absolutely no evidence to demonstrate that cold
climates lead to greater intelligence or the reverse in tropical
environments. In fact, I don't even have the intelligence to see how
we could reasonably put such a proposition to a test.
Most of my field work has been done 2 degrees north of the
equator in Venezuela among several tropical forest native peoples.
Believe me, this is not an idiot's paradise. Although staying warm is
not a problem, there are plenty of environmental challenges to stimulate
the intellect (e.g., most potential plant food resources are loaded
with toxic polyphenols, yet native peoples have developed ingenious
ways to detoxify them).
I believe that it was 19th century and early 20th century racists
(e.g., Madison Grant) who suggested the cold-intelligence connection.
I believe this idea still lingers and reappears periodically (e.g., P.
Rushton's recent work). This is NOT to suggest that people who talk
about the stress of the Ice Age and its possible role in intelligence
are racists. I only suggest that it is one of those ideas that is
widely believed but is without known foundation.
However, I will note there appears to be a reasonable correlation
with endocranial volume and latitude between and within ethnic
groupings. That is, the somewhat larger brains of those who live in
high latitude environments may be explained as a thermoregulatory
adaptation (see Beals et al., Current Anthropology, 1984) which makes
it an expression of Bergmann's rule.

Ray Hames
University of Nebraska