“…in the chimpanzee, several males mate frequently with the oestroud females, so that each male has to deposit enough sperm to compete with the presence of sperm from other males. For the chimpanzee, therefore, we hypothesize that selection will favor the male that can deposit the largest number of sperm; thus the volume of spermatogenic tissue and hence the testis size is far greater in the chimpanzee than in the gorilla or orangutan. If this is correct, it implies that primates in which more than one male mates with each oestrous female should have larger testes relative to their body weight than those with single-male breeding systems. We have tested this prediction across a wide range of primates, and the results support the hypothesis. The relative size of testes may, therefore, provide a valuable clue to the breeding system of a primate species.” (Harcourt AH, Harvey PH, Larson SG, Short RV (1981) Testis weight, body weight and breeding system in primates. Nature 293: p. 55)

It is the anomalies that hold hidden treasures. It is the things that don’t fit in that suggest where doorways to new understandings are located. As we study human evolution and develop a theory that explains anomalies, with the hope of being useful, we find that an issue has emerged that suggests a productive new direction because it doesn’t fit in. This issue has to do with neoteny in contemporary social structure.

Asian cultures and physiologies are different from African cultures and physiologies in very specific ways that put them on opposite ends of a societal manifestation of neotenous characteristics. This difference is predictable because the two societies often exhibit opposite social structures. We are talking in generalities here.

Still, there is the conundrum. Asians exhibit far more neotenous features than Africans while Asian societies are far more patrifocal.

Whereas in a matrifocal society, neoteny focuses on the male in a way that results in an emphasis on cooperative males operating within a horizontal social structure, in a patrifocal society it is the females that are chosen for their neotenous characteristics, tending to be more docile, while the males combat one another for position in a stratified society.

Asian culture is classically patrifocal. These societies are highly stratified, and women are repressed with high incidence of female infanticide. Males battle for position with a heavy emphasis on status.

African culture is a mix. There is evidence to suggest that until relatively recently, many African tribal cultures were matrifocal in orientation. One physiological manifestation is the relatively large size of African male testicles relative to Asian males. This size difference suggests relatively recent, intense male competition for females in a matrifocal social structure. Relatively small, Asian male testicle size fits with a culture that is highly focused on male control of female procreation–less sperm required.

We are not discussing testicle size in connection to how much testosterone is produced or how aggressive a male is in that society, but how testicle size relates to sperm production. The more power or choice a woman has in society and the freer she is to choose her mates, the more sperm the male requires to insure that he is able to compete. In societies where the father is not known, copious amounts of sperm are required. Charm is far more important in a matrifocal society than in a patrifocal society. In a patrifocal society, it is more necessary to vanquish an opponent physically, control procreation through male head of family and use societal mores to compel a woman to mate with a single man.

In many African societies, males were, and to some degree still are, chosen for their ability to succeed in a matrifocal culture. Predictably, they have relatively large testicles. The females do not exhibit particularly neotenous characteristics. In an Asian society, females are chosen for their docility and cooperative tendencies, males for their facility and commanding authority. Females exhibit highly neotenous physical features.

This description all makes perfect sense. But why does the Asian society as a whole exhibit highly neotenous features relative to African societies?

“Mongoloid women accordingly tend to be more paedomorphic [neotenic] than women of other groups. Not only do women of Mongoloid origin present more prominent and rounded foreheads, but the bones of the whole skull, and, indeed, the whole skeleton, are more delicately made. Mongoloids generally tend to be shorter, and have larger heads, including larger brains — 150 cc by volume greater, on the average, than Caucasoids. The face is flatter, the jaws and palate smaller, the nose smaller and flatter at the root (the miscalled “bridge”), and the slight fold of skin over the median part of the eye (the epicanthic fold) is preserved. The body is less hirsute, and there are fetal traits….The differential action of neoteny has produced some peculiar effects. For example, among the highly neotenized Japanese the males’ upper and lower jaws have been reduced in size while the teeth have not. The result has created a disharmony in many males in the form of extreme crowding and malocclusion of the teeth.” (Montagu, Ashley (1989) Growing Young N.Y.: McGraw Hill p. 40)

Societies at the social structure extremes select for neotenous females or neotenous males. Evidently, selecting for neotenous females results in highly neotenous features overall, with both sexes being influenced. Yet, over the course of human evolution in the last few million years, until recently (last 10,000-25,000 years) we have been selecting for neotenous males, with our whole species drifting in a neotenous direction without nearly as much visual neoteny being evident as in Asian culture.

If anybody has ideas, please tell me what they are.

Perhaps a solution has to do with the difference of choosing behaviors only vs. behaviors and appearance. Our species has evolved by choosing males that exhibit neotenous behavior and females comfortable with wielding authority. Asian cultures highly value female cooperative, neotenous behavior, males that are comfortable commanding authority and a number of female physical characteristics such as large eyes, light skin color and petite build. Is it possible that a culture-wide fixation on female neotenous appearance rather than culture-wide attention to those that are highly skilled in dance (see earlier posts) has so influenced Asian societies that both men and women exhibit highly neotenous characteristics?

Last thought. In Asian societies with stable hierarchies built around the long-term maintenance of irrigation works, males that will cooperate with hierarchical conventions perhaps are males displaying neotenous characteristics after all. Battling for position, they compliantly honor the station they achieve. In an anomalous fashion, both Asian sexes exhibit neoteny in a context of a highly patriarchal culture.

[On January 10th a resolution to this riddle was posted here, with continuing pieces discussing these issues located here.]


This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 20th, 2008 at 6:44 am and is filed under 10-Most Visited, Neoteny, Sexual Selection, Social Structure, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
3 Comments so far

  1. Shaniqua on January 6, 2009 9:38 am

    I think this article is biased against black people and you all should be warned

  2. Susan on July 1, 2009 8:41 am

    Get over yourself Shaniqua. There ARE a lot of differences between blacks and every other race on earth. The differences between the genitals and what we do with them and how we treat them is just the beginning SISTER.

    Another difference is how so many (tens of thousands) black males in the world RAPE White and other non black females annually.

    Why don’t you ‘splain that to the audience Sista girl???

  3. Tenerife on July 13, 2009 11:40 pm

    I can think of several physical similarities between Asians and Africans than either share with Caucasians. Both Asians and Africans have a tendency towards broad, flat noses, full lips, nearly universal dark pigment in the hair and eyes, and minimal body hair.

    African and Asian societies hold more to tradition (especially regarding religious belief) than the secularized West. They are less influenced by revolutionary social movements such as feminism and gay rights.

    Caucasians uniquely have eyes that recede or cave underneath the brow bone. Look at an elderly Caucasian person, and you will notice the area around the eyeballs is very cavernous. In contrast, Asians and Africans appear to age less noticably. Caucasian men have more baldness with age.

    As for patrifocal vs. matrifocal societies, Africa is a large continent with great variation. I don’t know that any one cultural characteristic applies to the entire region. Even if they were once matrifocal, the influence of Christianity and Islam would be expected to bring patriarchy.

    As the for the comments about genitalia and rape, it should be noted that Asian pornography is pervasive. An unfiltered internet search can prove as much. Africa apparently is the origination of draconian measures to prevent female promiscuity such as female genital mutilation.

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