Study: We Got Big Brains But Lost Our Brawn

The human brain has gotten so big that some of them are spending hard-earned research cash trying to find out how much brawn was lost in humanity’s quest for bigger brains.

A study published Tuesday in the Public Library of Science’s journal Biology describes a research project in which 10,000 genetic molecules from humans, apes and macaques were analyzed and compared to show how and why each evolved over millennia into what they’ve become today.

From early homo erectus (above), which had a skeleton supporting an ape-like set of muscles, to homo sapiens, the study found that humans have shrunk and weakened about eight times over, while our brains grew in size and cognitive ability four-fold. And physical and strength examinations of non-trained apes and macaques alongside those of exceptionally trained humans showed that feral hominids are about two times stronger on average than their human counterparts.

By comparing the physical and genetic chronology of the three species, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology are able to show how brains and other organs have gradually evolved to fill in more and more for brawn.

“A major difference in muscular strength between humans and nonhuman primates provides one possible explanation” for why hominids sought more sedentary pursuits, lead researcher Kararzyna Bozen of the Max Planck Institute told National Geographic.

To put things into perspective: We went from a tree-dwelling, creature hunting/evading culture to one that would create and ensure the survival of, say, something like International Masturbation Month. (No lie: It winds up May 31). We grew those brains even more just recently, when we went from being able to read paper books to books on portable devices that give us the freedom to read whatever we want, whenever we want. You can almost feel your brain growing just thinking about it.

Our brains have gotten so wise as to figure out that we might be yawning because our brain’s gotten too hot! So lazy or bored has nothing to do with it! That’s how big our brains have gotten.

But in case some were to question whether the inactivity of the Couch Potato Body might have something to do with the homo sapien’s low scores in the strength categories, researchers put some apes and macaques on the Couch Potato routine and they didn’t lose much of their core, skeletomuscular strength after two months. The researchers were left to credit our chill lifestyles for just 3 percent of the differences that exist among humans and other hominids.

Hey, there’s always this: The average brain today takes up about 20 percent of a body’s metabolism. Right out of our biceps.

And it wasn’t much different about 60,000 years ago, when the first humans wandered out of Africa and began settling the world through Europe and Asia and ultimately the western hemisphere via the Alaskan land bridge.

So far, those brains have carried us.

[Image courtesy of WikiSpecies]