"I don't understand how you evolved. You are too goofy,"
February 8, 2012 8:59 AM   Subscribe

"The idea that a species domesticated itself is a bit crazy, but there are some species that outcompeted others by becoming nicer." Wired examines the phenomena of self-domestication.
"This possibility is most apparent in bonobos, a close cousin of chimpanzees. Unlike their violent cousins, bonobos are generally peaceful. And while many animals have evolved to be socially agreeable, bonobos — and possibly other species — seem to be experiencing something more precise and profound: the physical and behavioral changes specifically described in studies of domestication, but as a natural evolutionary process."
posted by quin (38 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I demand a link to the cute fox study! (or did I miss it in the link?)
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:18 AM on February 8, 2012


If only mankind could learn to domesticate itself. Sigh.
posted by No Robots at 9:18 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's a link to the fox study, but it's somewhat borked. Just remove the br at the end.
posted by tommasz at 9:22 AM on February 8, 2012


"The silver fox, domesticated over 40 generations by the late Siberian scientist Dmitri Belayev" (previously)
posted by quin at 9:23 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Win, thanks, was on mobile device so I missed it altogether.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:28 AM on February 8, 2012


I have no doubt that this is exactly how dogs domesticated humans, especially when my dog looks at me with that "I am such a pathetic puppy" look when I am eating a tasty meaty morsel.

Works pretty well too.
posted by xetere at 9:34 AM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Case in point: cats (as opposed to dogs).
That was the upshot of the discovery of their globally shared DNA, pointing to one common ancestor, the first Golden-Triangle cat who noticed the abundance of mice in those then-newly-invented grain storage shacks, and decided to come in out of the wild - iirc, no?
posted by progosk at 9:37 AM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Anyone who finds it surprising that nature can select for cooperative instead of aggressive tendencies needs to skip the primates for awhile and study some birds.
posted by localroger at 9:38 AM on February 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


Anyone who finds it surprising that nature can select for cooperative instead of aggressive tendencies needs to skip the primates for awhile and study some birds or any herd or pack animal at all.

FTFY, localroger.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:41 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


some dogs have their owners very well trained.

and cats even give us brain parasites to make us more agreeable.
posted by mek at 9:52 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am convinced cats have become cuter in the last 20 years.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:00 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Finally, Hare has one more candidate for self-domestication: Homo sapiens. At some point in our prehistory, we became much less aggressive and much more social. Some researchers link this to domestication-like changes in our biology. It’s impossible to say for sure, and sociobiological origin stories — special diets, tool use, hunting, symbolism — are legion. But perhaps it’s time for one more. Maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the line, we simply got nicer.
I think I remember reading that the most common cause of death in early human society was homicide. Most of human history has been one war after another. Of course all this violence is typically done socially in large group vs. small group situations. We are certainly not as pacific as the banobos.
posted by delmoi at 10:01 AM on February 8, 2012


just look at this guy.

Fucking brain parasites, making me look at pictures of cats all day.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:03 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


OH MY GOD those baby silver foxes! I want one so hard! I will love it and squeeze it and call it Anderson!

*cough* I have nothing of value to contribute to this conversation. Carry on.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 10:08 AM on February 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


The essence of domestication is a loss of aggression.

So are we calling all reduction of aggression 'domestication'? I think there's some confusion of terminology. Can't you just become more 'social' without being called 'domesticated'?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:11 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Domestic does not only mean tame, it can also mean: of or pertaining to the home, the household, household affairs, or the family, or: devoted to home life or household affairs.

Which still seems like an odd fit, unless it's stressing the family relationships.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:16 AM on February 8, 2012


Also, if you know the cat's long plan it's even more amazing.

First, a few thousand years ago they domesticated H. Sapiens. Then, a few decades ago they induced us to build a network that allows a cat anywhere in the world to send an image of itself to another cat anywhere else in the world.

I have not yet figured out how they are encoding messages with their whisker positions, but we should be very afraid.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:16 AM on February 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


Aren't we as a species a moderately good example of self domestication?
posted by Slackermagee at 10:16 AM on February 8, 2012


Actually, the abstract indicates "tame" is the intended definition:
We first detail the changes typically seen in domesticated species including shifts in development. We then show that bonobos show less severe forms of aggression than chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, and suggest that this difference evolved because of relaxed feeding competition. We next review evidence that phenotypic differences in morphology and behaviour between bonobos and chimpanzees are analogous to differences between domesticates and their wild ancestors.
Domestic is shorthand for all the traits associated with tamed animals, as compared to the typical wild individuals.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:19 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Domestic does not only mean tame

"Domestication" actually doesn't mean tame at all. We've tamed elephants, pandas and lions, but we haven't domesticated them at all. Domestication means we actually control for desired traits via artificial selection.
posted by spaltavian at 10:25 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Humans are still domesticating themselves. As social organization becomes more complex, the ability to negotiate that organization becomes a strong correlate of reproductive success, with all that comes with that. Why shouldn't the same thing work for other species?

Basically, today Genghis Khan would probably not end up ruling a huge chunk of the known world and having some 16 million descendants 700 years later. He'd be much more likely to die childless in prison.
posted by Naberius at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Today, mankind's violence against other life-forms is unprecedented in scale and destructive power.
posted by No Robots at 10:28 AM on February 8, 2012


localroger: Anyone who finds it surprising that nature can select for cooperative instead of aggressive tendencies needs to skip the primates for awhile and study some birds.

I think the surprise in the case of bonobos is in comparison to that of the closely related chimps, and other primates and apes. Violence appears to be a regular part of chimp behavior, and shifts from combative to social societies are also notable exceptions amongst baboon tribes.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2012


In short, compared to the "ultraviolence" of some chimps, peaceful, goofy bonobos are an interesting species, moreso because of their relationship to humans.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:32 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


So 'domestication' implies changes in the phenotype, not just social behavior? (Ignoring the whole 'nature vs. nurture' question for a bit.)
posted by benito.strauss at 10:40 AM on February 8, 2012


It seems so, if the domesticated silver foxes are a good example. The friendlier foxes appeared to retain some juvenile physical traits as adults, and bonobos do, too (smaller jawbones and teeth).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:44 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Basically, today Genghis Khan would probably not end up ruling a huge chunk of the known world and having some 16 million descendants 700 years later. He'd be much more likely to die childless in prison.

Nah, he'd get away on a skateboard after discovering the baseball bat and football helmet. I saw it in a movie.
posted by condour75 at 11:55 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]



I am convinced cats have become cuter in the last 20 years.


That's just the captions.
posted by stevis23 at 12:31 PM on February 8, 2012


Basically, today Genghis Khan would probably not end up ruling a huge chunk of the known world and having some 16 million descendants 700 years later. He'd be much more likely to die childless in prison.

Nah, he'd get away on a skateboard after discovering the baseball bat and football helmet. I saw it in a movie.

I always assumed he received a golden parachute, and became a Washington insider.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:55 PM on February 8, 2012


I always assumed he received a golden parachute, and became a Washington insider.

He would be named Richard Cheney.
posted by localroger at 12:56 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


So 'domestication' implies changes in the phenotype, not just social behavior?

Yeah, because the key is breeding. You might be able to tame a lion to not bite you, but it's kid will still try to eat you without the exact same training you gave the parent.

Even a feral dog, on the other hand, will behave significantly differently from a wolf. (Which is notable, since wolves and dogs are still the same species.)
posted by spaltavian at 1:42 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Basically, today Genghis Khan would probably not end up ruling a huge chunk of the known world and having some 16 million descendants 700 years later. He'd be much more likely to die childless in prison.

I disagree. Genghis Khan was incredibly violent by both modern and contemporary standards, but mostly in a political/wartime manner, and in some ways he was more "domesticated" than was generally accepted at the time (for example, he was able to unite the Mongols partly because he was willing to integrate defeated warriors into his tribe rather than driving them out). I can easily see a modern-day Genghis rising to great power sometime during the 20th century, perhaps as a military man and then a national leader. I've seen Stalin described as "Genghis Khan with tanks", for instance, to the point where his contemporary Nikolai Bukharin made a direct comparison between the two... yet Stalin did end up ruling a huge chunk of the known world, within living memory. The same goes for Mao Zedong.

I mean, would Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and General Sherman all "die childless in prison" today? I don't think so. Society doesn't seem to work that way -- there's been plenty of space for socially-sanctioned mass killing in the last two centuries, just as there was in the Great Khan's time.
posted by vorfeed at 2:37 PM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


So is there scientific research in progress breeding wild animals toward tameness? Because if there is volunteer work to be done cuddling baaaabby weasels or something I am totally willing to make that sacrifice.

I would also love to see animal registry orgs like the AKC adopt breed standards a la "the champion dog must look like this, be
free of these genetic diseases, and also be a friendly GOOD DOGGY WHO'S A GOOD DOGGY YES YOU ARE." Hundreds of bloody-minded purebred Chihuahuas, invalidated in one blow!
posted by nicebookrack at 6:06 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


IIRC in Superdove* Courtney Humphries makes a fascinating case for pigeons being the only(?) animal domesticated by humans but not tamed. They were carried around the world as livestock animals, but cared for largely by setting them loose to find their own food, since they'll come back to the nest when they feel like it, so they weren't bred into plump helplessness like, oh, many domestic chickens.


*AKA the reason I'll be interjecting "DID YOU KNOW THAT PIGEONS etc. etc." at parties for the rest of my life, which is why I don't get invited to parties
posted by nicebookrack at 6:17 PM on February 8, 2012


So 'domestication' implies changes in the phenotype, not just social behavior?

Domestication just means selecting for traits of benefit to people, so it could be either. In a lot of species the physical appearance in domestication is dictated by Neotony, which is where a domesticated animal looks like a juvenile of the origin species.

Certain breeds of dog have certainly been selected for certain very specific physical traits. Fatter livestock.
posted by rosswald at 6:18 PM on February 8, 2012


Ah yes, I was searching my brain for the word neotony earlier. Because I do recall seeing the suggestion that humans are, compared to other primates, a very neotonous mutation.
posted by localroger at 7:20 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jesus, Wired needs some editors. And writers.

Why not ask a real primatologist for an update on current thinking with regard to chimp vs. bonobo behaviour? Because it didn't just end at Goodall.

Bloody lazy evolutionary psych bullshit, with cart firmly before the horse.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:54 PM on February 8, 2012


IIRC in Superdove ....

That was a great book that was doomed by an unsettling cover. I remember walking by Horticultural Hall (one of the Boston buildings she mentions in the book), looking up and saying "I bet you don't know that you're in a book." to the pigeons.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:03 PM on February 8, 2012


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