Nav: Home

Autism and human evolutionary success

November 15, 2016

A subtle change occurred in our evolutionary history 100,000 years ago which allowed people who thought and behaved differently - such as individuals with autism - to be integrated into society, academics from the University of York have concluded.

The change happened with the emergence of collaborative morality - an investment in the well-being of everyone in the group - and meant people who displayed autistic traits would not only have been accepted but possibly respected for their unique skills.

It is likely our ancestors would have had autism, with genetics suggesting the condition has a long evolutionary history.

But rather than being left behind, or at best tolerated, the research team conclude that many would have played an important role in their social group because of their unique skills and talents.

"We are arguing that diversity, variation between people, was probably more significant in human evolutionary success than the characteristics of one person, "said Penny Spikins, senior lecturer in the archaeology of human origins, at the University of York.

"It was diversity between people which led to human success and it is particularly important as it gives you different specialised roles.

"We are arguing that it is the rise of collaborative morality that led to the possibility for widening the diversity of the human personality."

Many people with autism have exceptional memory skills, heightened perception in realms of vision, taste and smell and enhanced understanding of natural systems such as animal behaviour.

The incorporation of some of these skills into a community would play a vital role in the development of specialists, the authors of the report, which is published in Time and Mind, suggest.

A previous ethnographic study in 2005 of an elderly reindeer herder from Siberia revealed a detailed memory of the parentage, medical history and character of each one of his 2,600 animals.

His vital knowledge would have made a significant contribution to their management and survival.

The grandfather was more comfortable in the company of the reindeer than of humans, but was much respected and had a wife and son and grandchildren.

Finding tangible evidence of autism in archaeological records has always been challenging for academics.

Dr Spikins said "The archaeological record doesn't give us a skeletal record for autism, but what it does do is give us a record for other people who have various differences and how they have been integrated."

Other clues can be found in cave art and other artefacts.

"There has been a long-standing debate about identifying traits of autism in Upper Palaeolithic cave art.

"We can't say some of it was drawn by someone with autism, but there are traits that are identifiable to someone who has autism. It was also roughly at that time that we see collaborative morality emerging."
-end-
A copy of the research paper can be found here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1751696X.2016.1244949

University of York

Related Autism Articles:

Genes, ozone, and autism
Exposure to ozone in the environment puts individuals with high levels of genetic variation at an even higher risk for developing autism than would be expected just by adding the two risk factors together, a new analysis shows.
A blood test for autism
An algorithm based on levels of metabolites found in a blood sample can accurately predict whether a child is on the autism spectrum of disorder (ASD), based upon a recent study.
New form of autism found
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect around one percent of the world's population and are characterized by a range of difficulties in social interaction and communication.
Autism Speaks MSSNG study expands understanding of autism's complex genetics
A new study from Autism Speaks' MSSNG program expands understanding of autism's complex causes and may hold clues for the future development of targeted treatments.
Paths to Autism: One or Many?
A new report in Biological Psychiatry reports that brain alterations in infants at risk for autism may be widespread and affect multiple systems, in contrast to the widely held assumption of impairment specifically in social brain networks.
Raising a child with autism
Humans are resilient, even facing the toughest of life's challenges.
Explaining autism
Recognizing a need to better understand the biology that produces Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms, scientists at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), Singapore, have teamed up and identified a novel mechanism that potentially links abnormal brain development to the cause of ASDs.
Autism breakthrough
Using a visual test that is known to prompt different reactions in autistic and normal brains, Harvard researchers have shown that those differences were associated with a breakdown in the signaling pathway used by GABA, one of the brain's chief inhibitory neurotransmitters.
New options for treating autism
The release of oxytocin leads to an increase in the production of anandamide, which causes mice to display a preference for interacting socially.
The Autism Science Foundation launches the Autism Sisters Project
The Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and funding autism research, today announced the launch of the Autism Sisters Project, a new initiative that will give unaffected sisters of individuals with autism the opportunity to take an active role in accelerating research into the 'Female Protective Effect.'

Related Autism Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...