New report says parenting makes us smarter

A new study has found that human intelligence evolved because we had to become better parents to our young ones.
May 31, 2016

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  • In humanity's infancy, it might have been child care that helped us evolve.

  • A new study from the University of Rochester has found that human intelligence likely evolved due to the demands of taking care of newborns. Experts found that human brains and intelligence likely grew along with the demands of parenting and raising an infant.

  • For the study, Steven Piantadosi and Celeste Kidd, assistant professors in brain and cognitive sciences, developed an evolutionary model that found babies are born with a lack of wisdom, intelligence and skills - unlike giraffe calves, for example, which "are able to stand-up, walk around, and even flee from predators within hours of their births," according to Kidd - because it helps them develop into big-brained adults.

  • "Our theory is that there is a kind of self-reinforcing cycle where big brains lead to very premature offspring and premature offspring lead to parents having to have big brains. What our formal modeling work shows is that those dynamics can result in runaway pressure for extremely intelligent parents and extremely premature offspring," Piantadosi said in a statement.

  • This theory means that humans are born with smaller heads to ensure that they can be born. But because newborns don't have high levels of intelligence, this requires parents to have bigger brains, according to the study.

  • "As a result, selective pressures for large brains and early birth can become self-reinforcing - potentially creating species like humans with qualitatively different cognitive abilities than other animals," the study said.

  • This study may point to why humans are so intelligent compared to other species. Our need to parent and do so effectively have, over time, made us more understanding of logic and reasoning, among other intelligence factors that humans excel at.

  • "Humans have a unique kind of intelligence. We are good at social reasoning and something called 'theory of mind' - the ability to anticipate the needs of others, and to recognize that those needs may not be the same as our own," Kidd said in a statement. "This is especially helpful when taking care of an infant who is not able to talk for a couple of years."

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  • Previous research has also found that other animals tend to be smarter than youngsters in their infancy. According to Popular Science, a study from the University of British Columbia found that dogs have an intelligence of a 2-and-a-half-year-old. Researchers found this after looking at the verbal comprehension between infants and dogs.

  • Dogs, the study found, can understand close to 165 words, including some hand signals and signs, which is about on par with 2-year-old babies. But smart dogs can understand closer to 250 words, which is the equivalent of a 2.5 year-old baby.

  • As you might expect, this study has its naysayers.

  • "The dog is very good at doing dog-things, and the child is developing a talent for doing human-things," Alexandra Horowitz, a psychologist at Barnard College, told Popular Science.

  • Others have pointed out, however, that even a 7-year-old cat is smarter than a 7-month-old baby.

  • But without babies, we may not have such a strong ability to parent, nor be as smart as we are, according to The Washington Post.

  • Piantadosi, the cognitive scientist at the University of Rochester who worked on the aforementioned study, said that a baby's lack of intelligence gives us the strength we need to become good parents in the future.

  • So while dogs and cats may understand more words and commands, babies will eventually grasp social reasoning that'll make them more unique and, well, human.

  • "Social understanding is ... a really important thing for taking care of kids that are born helpless, because you have to be able to figure out what they need," Piantadosi said. "In that sense this fits nicely with those kinds of theories about what makes humans special."

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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

Website: https://twitter.com/HerbScribner

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