Fast-Evolving Brains Helped Humans out of the Stone Age

Just like our animal skin–clad ancestors, we gather food with zeal, lust over the most capable mates, and have an aversion to scammers. And we do still wear plenty of animal skins. But does more separate us from our Stone Age forebears than cartoonists and popular psychologists might have us believe?

At first blush, parsing the modern human in terms of behaviors apparently hardwired into the brain over eons of evolution seems like a tidy, straightforward exercise. And 30 years ago, when the field of evolutionary psychology was gaining steam, some facile parallels between ancient and modern behaviors lodged themselves in the popular conceptions of human evolution. “It’s very easy to slip into a very simplistic view of human nature,” says Robert Kurzban, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, citing the classic Flintstones stereotype.

Advances in neuroscience and genetics now suggest that the human brain has changed more rapidly—and in different ways—than was initially thought, according to a new paper published online July 19 in PLoS BiologyRead Article

By Katherine Harmon
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