news article today in the Independent newspaper...
“We suspect that the early development of inherited autism was in part an evolutionary response to ultra-harsh climatic conditions at the height of the last Ice Age. Without the development of autism-related abilities in some people, it is conceivable that humans would not have been able to survive in a freezing environment in which finding food required enhanced skills”, she said.
Good to see those on the spectrum getting some positive acknowledgement..
commentators on the article (scroll down when on the link.... ), however, display varying degrees of human evolution... :)
the full academic paper btw.
This is fantastic! It's nice to see the positive aspects of autism mentioned
Greetings. Sorry I did not spot this earlier - before Three-in-the-Morning (!)... I am Posting to put this Thread back to near the top. Thank You in advance. (Why are Wednesdays always so quiet?!)
Why are Wednesdays so quiet, DC? To get us ready for raucous Thursdays! X
I know that this puts me amongst one of those irritating people who "just Copies and Pastes stuff in order to look clever"... but: I finally looked at the article properly, now. There are lots of Adverts, and I cannot download PDFs, I know not why. But this is part of the Article, for anyone adverse to clicking Links.
Prehistoric autism helped produce much of the world's earliest great art, study says
Harsh Ice Age conditions may have favoured the selection of genes which allowed some humans to focus on tasks in great detail for long periods, scientists believe.
Harsh conditions favoured the natural selection of genes which predisposed some humans to develop abilities to focus on tasks in great detail for long periods; to perceive their environments in three-dimensional terms in an enhanced way; to develop greater image retention abilities; and to develop greater aptitudes to identify and analyse patterns of geography and movement.
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All of these aptitudes, often found in people on the autistic spectrum, allowed ice age humans to make more efficient flint hunting spearheads (a very time-consuming process needing intense detailed focus), to remember in minute detail (and navigate through) thousands of square miles of hunting terrain, and to remember and analyse patterns of animal behaviour.
But these same newly evolved abilities also made it possible to produce realistic art – dramatic and dynamic images of animals from memory and to draw them in perspective (to mimic 3D reality) in artistic compositions reflecting the patterns of nature.
“Detail focus is what determines whether you can draw realistically; you need it in order to be a talented realistic artist. This trait is found very commonly in people with autism and rarely occurs in people without it,” she added.
I found it interesting as well. It would be good if this research was developed. And most of all, if - when - what they credit Autism with, was paid attention to by the masses! Thank You Miss Elephant, this Forum (and beyond) needs more articles like this one.
A raucous Thursday would be excellent right now!
I want to bump this discussion up the list, and hope the following is comprehensible. Couldn't the theory explain much of how we are different? It fits in neatly with the idea of neurodiversity, and recalls:
The article conjures up a particular autistic phenotype, archetype or stereotype: the tracker, the witch, the monk, the boffin. Where would we be without specialists? Probably extinct, or still in isolated tribes. There would certainly be no settlements or modern society without specialisation, or someone to experimentally and doggedly pioneer that specialism.
(Of course there are dangers with too much specialisation and we seem to require more than more specialists to deal with that. As Carl Sagan said: 'We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. It’s dangerous and stupid for us to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain.' Relevant to specialisation, Aldous Huxley: 'An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex.')
So if autism is adaptive for the tribe, it explains a few things, 'symptoms' which may or may not occur together; attention to detail, to become fascinated with animal behaviour or where plants are found; intense focus or 'monotropism' and a tendency to special interests at the expense of general communication; 'local processing bias' which the paper describes as associated with talented representational artists; concern with symbolic systems; sensory hypersensitivity to the environment, and hyposensitivity to physical needs and sensory processing differences; both wanting things the same, and seeking out something specific.
These characteristics might differ from those of others, who use much of their brain for understanding social dynamics, emoting and communicating to keep the group together, for their own purposes and for the group's. Apparently it's been found that the regions of the brain that in neurotypical people are used for recognising faces, understanding non-verbal communication and social implications are in autistic people used instead for special interests. This could provide a few individuals (not too many), with enhanced abilities in specialised fields. Those people would be more flexible, in a long-term sense, and diverse. It's been said that autism is like a different 'operating system'. In computing terms, I wonder if it is more like being built without certain optional firmware ROMs, so that social abilities are not hard-coded, but can be learned in general-purpose software.Maybe we can imagine identifying with our forebears in a cave scene by firelight: 'Please stop waving that smelly mammoth leg around. Can't you see I'm trying to finish my PhD painting on "101 ways to skin a sabre-toothed tiger"? Get those breasts out of my face. Stop partying!"The problem I have with the idea is that if there's such a long evolutionary history, why do autistic people find social interaction so much harder? Wouldn't it have been better if people had evolved ability to concentrate on a particular subject, without losing the abilities to see social context and bond emotionally through shared signals? That way, we might have less desire to spend time chatting than we do sorting and studying, but could still socialise when needed to achieve a respectable status with our peers. Some related possibilities:
Autism is not, as is often assumed, a recent phenomenon as the genes coding for autism havea long ancestry, dating to before the emergence of the hominin line. Autism is thus part of the shared apegenome [refs] with autistic traits apparent in chimpanzees(Marrus et al., 2011; Faughn et al., 2015) and autism genes also found in other primates including macaques(Yoshida et al., 2016). These genes play a role in the ‘evolvability’ or capacity to adapt of the ape and humangenome ... individuals with exceptional talents in realistic depiction also commonly experience socialtraits associated with autism ... Spikins et al. (2016) have argued for examplethat the incorporation of autism is explained through understanding that autism spectrum conditions arenot asocial, but differently social, with individuals with autism without intellectual impairment potentiallybringing important skills and fulfilling important roles in society in the past, as in the present ... In the case of those for whom local processing bias also brought with it traits of autism, compulsive behaviour patterns or certain social difficulties, emerging roles for their social and technical skills (Spikins et al., 2016) would explain the positive selection for autism genes through a balanceof skills and deficits.
Well, maybe. I suggested here http://community.autism.org.uk/f/miscellaneous-and-chat/11765/is-aspergers-the-next-evolutionary-step-for-humans that intense autistic traits may be maladaptive for the individual, but adaptive for kin or for the group, because of the cultural advantages the specialist brings that are adopted by the group, or because in weaker combinations or forms, the genes variants manifest more as intellectual 'skills' than deficits.
Cassandro said:The problem I have with the idea is that if there's such a long evolutionary history, why do autistic people find social interaction so much harder?
Maybe you could tier character types... the sociable diplomatic to unite the tribe and keep peace, the worker bees - I.e Hunter, soldier, physical labourer, and the geeky director working at levels of abstraction working at a conceptual level.?
we are still here, so it evidently hasn’t stopped breeding taking place... being silent maybe deemed an attractive feature! ;)
ElephantInTheRoom said:Because a great deal of it can be deemed as unnecessary, purposeless and rather banal
It can be, but social interaction does have a function and people seem to need it to succeed socially, if only to get people to take notice of their detailed interests, such as mastodon tracks.
To rephrase the question, why does an enhanced skill in an area like mapping mean that you have to have less of a skill socially? Just the virtue of having the enhanced skill in prehistoric times means it could be used and receive more attention. (Or is it that you're only inclined to find and develop alternative skills if you can't spend time gossiping?)
ElephantInTheRoom said:Maybe you could tier character types... the sociable diplomatic to unite the tribe and keep peace, the worker bees - I.e Hunter, soldier, physical labourer, and the geeky director working at levels of abstraction working at a conceptual level.?
Yes, I'd come to similar conclusions and think there are good evolutionary reasons for personality diversity. I've added a paragraph above (about 'firmware') I'd meant to include.
ElephantInTheRoom said:we are still here, so it evidently hasn’t stopped breeding taking place... being silent maybe deemed an attractive feature! ;)
It stopped me, but that's a different story. (I've already linked to https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jclp.22319#) The two-thirds or more of autistic people who have a mental health problem also suggests it's not a small barrier, at least in modern society.