Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Original Industrial Revolution

Cro-Magnon woman (Wikicommons) – At northern latitudes, women had fewer opportunities for food gathering, so they were free to specialize in new and more cognitively demanding tasks, like garment making, needlework, weaving, leatherworking, pottery, and kiln operation.

I've published an article on the theory that cold Paleolithic winters selected for intelligence. This theory is often attributed to J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen but actually goes much further back. The article is open access (see link), and the abstract is provided below. Comments are welcome.

Rushton and Jensen argued that cognitive ability differs between human populations. But why are such differences expectable? Their answer: as modern humans spread out of Africa and into northern Eurasia, they entered colder and more seasonal climates that selected for the ability to plan ahead, in order to store food, make clothes, and build shelters for winter. This cold winter theory is supported by research on Paleolithic humans and recent hunter-gatherers. Tools become more diverse and complex as effective temperature decreases, apparently because food has to be obtained during limited periods and over large areas. There is also more storage of food and fuel and greater use of untended traps and snares. Finally, shelters have to be sturdier, and clothing more cold-resistant. The resulting cognitive demands are met primarily by women because the lack of opportunities for food gathering pushes them into more cognitively demanding tasks, like garment making, needlework, weaving, leatherworking, pottery, and kiln operation. The northern tier of Paleolithic Eurasia thus produced the "Original Industrial Revolution"—an explosion of creativity that preadapted its inhabitants for later developments, i.e., farming, more complex technology and social organization, and an increasingly future-oriented culture. Over time, these humans would spread south, replacing earlier populations that could less easily exploit the possibilities of the new cultural environment. As this environment developed further, it selected for further increases in cognitive ability. Indeed, mean intelligence seems to have risen during recorded history at temperate latitudes in Europe and East Asia. There is thus no unified theory for the evolution of human intelligence. A key stage was adaptation to cold winters during the Paleolithic, but much happened later.


Frost, P. (2019). The OriginalIndustrial Revolution. Did Cold Winters Select for Cognitive Ability? Psych 2019, 1(1), 166-181