Field of Science

Scandinavians have bigger brains for better vision

ResearchBlogging.orgNo matter that this study proposes that people of the north have bigger brains than those at the equator merely to cope with lower levels of sunlight - it would still cause an uproar if the rather large group of people (including scientists) who regularly commit the moralistic fallacy should ever hear about it.
We demonstrate a significant positive relationship between absolute latitude and human orbital volume, an index of eyeball size. Owing to tight scaling between visual system components, this will translate into enlarged visual cortices at higher latitudes.
Bigger brains, and by usual (though not in this case) inference, higher intelligence ranks at least as high on the list of taboos as race does. Telling someone they are less intelligent is one of the worst things one can say about another. As a consequence, research into intelligence is under more scrutiny than most other disciplines, and freely voicing hypotheticals can get researchers fired.

In the world of bats, saying someone has substandard echolocation is not politically correct. Among snails, calling someone fast is frowned upon. Elephants are known to ostracize those claiming to have longer trunks that others. Because if a bat or snail or elephant is substandard in the prime measure of worth, then the fear is that they will be treated badly by those with better echolocation, speed, and trunks.

But luckily (eh?), the study does not suggest any difference in intelligence after all. Just that we Scandinavians have bigger brains because we need to be more sensitive to light, because there is less of it. Phew! Perhaps now we can even use this data to cancel out any differences in intelligence? After all, that there should be any systematic variation in intelligence among human populations is, unlike many other traits, just unthinkable!!!


Pearce, E., & Dunbar, R. (2011). Latitudinal variation in light levels drives human visual system size Biology Letters DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0570


  1. The brain consumes an inordinate amount of energy. That means it is under heavy selection pressure. Take a trait under heavy selection pressure and vary the environment, wait enough time (e.g., time enough for visual differences to occur) and you will have differences in that trait. I have no idea as to how these differences manifest themselves but they must happen.
    Any biologist will say as much. However, they won't do it in public. Weird.

  2. Everyone with a triple digit IQ knows whites are smarter and blacks run faster. In "mixed company", one can barely admit the latter and certainly not the former. Until there are scientific solutions to end genetic disparities, it is not PC to admit they exist. But one must admit to the disparities to really focus on eliminating them via scientific means. One day, all our children will be taller and smarter and faster than average (smirk).

  3. eh, the point is its a waste of time and effort to consider. selective population level variances in intelligence are dwarfed by individual variance (at least gross measures like race). intelligence is very poorly measured by tests, or more accurately, what is measured by our intelligence tests has little predictive power for success in other areas of life. even more so when you are talking about population level variations.

  4. Anonymous @11:36, statistically speaking, my particular triple-digit IQ is almost certainly higher than yours (>99.9% confidence), and I don't "know" that whites are smarter and blacks run faster at all.

    I *do* know that the Boston Marathon keeps being won by Kenyans, but we're talking actual Kenyans who grew up in the high-altitude environment of Kenya (nurture) rather than people who just happen to have recent Kenyan ancestors (nature). Nobody has yet come up with any really meaningful and general way to distinguish nature from nurture with regard to the effects of the complex and variable genetic heritages we perceive as race. Moreover, it's well established that the variability within so-called races (particularly the African "race", if you're so foolish as to believe that there's only one) is much greater than the variability between "races". So our perception of someone's racial background doesn't tell us nearly as much about them as a naive assumption might suggest.

    What all this says to me is that if you think you just know that members of "race" A are more X than members of "race" B, you're probably not as smart as you think you are.

  5. "Owing to tight scaling between visual system components, this will translate into enlarged visual cortices at higher latitudes."

    I am pretty sure that there is not "tight scaling between visual system components". There are (for reasons that are not well understood) enormous individual variations in the size of V1, much greater than variations in eyeball size.

  6. Moreover, regarding the blacks run faster than whites thing. It seems, that the greater marathon/distance runners are a specific subsection of "blacks", who also make horrible sprinters.
    On the other hand, there is another subsection of "blacks" that make excellent sprinters, but horrible distance runners. While there may or may not be an actual genetic/racial basis for this "trend" observed in world elite-level sports competitions, the issue is a little more complex than the simplified claim that "blacks run faster than any one else".

    Assuming all else is "equal", if someone specifically is gifted for long-distance running, whatever this requires physiologically(muscle fiber-type composition, bone-density, lung-volume etc. etc.), the guy who isn't, most likely makes a better sprinter and vice versa.

  7. So does this mean that you all have bigger heads ;-)



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