Human Nature 20 (1):67-79 (2009)

Hypotheses regarding the selective pressures driving the threefold increase in the size of the hominid brain since Homo habilis include climatic conditions, ecological demands, and social competition. We provide a multivariate analysis that enables the simultaneous assessment of variables representing each of these potential selective forces. Data were collated for latitude, prevalence of harmful parasites, mean annual temperature, and variation in annual temperature for the location of 175 hominid crania dating from 1.9 million to 10 thousand years ago. We also included a proxy for population density and two indexes of paleoclimatic variability for the time at which each cranium was discovered. Results revealed independent contributions of population density, variation in paleoclimate, and temperature variation to the prediction of change in hominid cranial capacity (CC). Although the effects of paleoclimatic variability and temperature variation provide support for climatic hypotheses, the proxy for population density predicted more unique variance in CC than all other variables. The pattern suggests multiple pressures drove hominid brain evolution and that the core selective force was social competition
Keywords Hominid  Cranial capacity  Ecological dominance  Parasite prevalence  Paleoclimatic variability  Social brain
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DOI 10.1007/s12110-008-9054-0
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