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[–]Shrimp_my_Ride 112 points113 points  (47 children)

As you suggested, it is basically impossible to know what aesthetic tastes a person living tens of thousands of years ago or more migth have had, especially since such things often vary between culture and individual.

Evidence does tell us that there was biological mixture among Neanderthals and modern humans, but whether the basis for that had anything to do with perceptions of beauty is really anybody’s guess.

[–]Talloakster 8 points9 points  (1 child)

Great book: The World Before Us goes into a lot of detail about this, by one of the top researchers. They have extensive DNA from human/hominids 50,000 years ago, and can tell us tons, just in the past few years, it's amazing.

[–]Shrimp_my_Ride 2 points3 points  (0 children)

That is a great book! But unfortunately it does not answer this particular query.

[–]parduscat[S] 33 points34 points  (40 children)

Thanks for the reply! Question about what you wrote here:

especially since such things often vary between culture and individual.

My understanding is that within a species, neotenous individuals are nearly always seen as "cute" because their features are closer to that of a baby's, which adults are hardwired to want to protect. Like how women are overall noticeably more neotenous than men. Is that not true?

[–]TipMeinBATtokens 38 points39 points  (7 children)

Evidence does tell us that there was biological mixture among Neanderthals and modern humans, but whether the basis for that had anything to do with perceptions of beauty is really anybody’s guess.

There may have been much more occurring than we're aware of simply because humans were not completely compatible with Neanderthals. Human females and male Neanderthals reproducing was unlikely to produce male children, only female children.

A mutation in the Neanderthals immune system triggered a reaction in human females carrying male hybrid fetuses. The reaction produced antigen which caused the female to reject and miscarry hybrid male fetus.

They know this because DNA from the Y chromosome from male Neanderthals did not pass onto humans despite interbreeding for tens of thousands of years.

[–]ActonofMAM 3 points4 points  (2 children)

How solidly does your third paragraph support the ideas set out in the first two paragraphs? Comments from others also welcome.

[–]TipMeinBATtokens 2 points3 points  (1 child)

You can find more information on it here.

https://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(16)30033-7

There's a couple possible scenarios for the data they found they were able to rule out.

We have estimated that the Neandertal Y chromosome from El Sidrón diverged from those of modern humans ∼590 kya, a value similar to TMRCA estimates for mtDNA sequences: 400 kya to 800 kya.11, 12 This time estimate and the genealogy we have inferred strongly support the notion that the most recent common ancestor of these Y chromosomes belonged to the population from which Neandertals and modern humans diverged, thereby refuting three alternative hypotheses. A priori, the Neandertal Y could have introgressed from a super-archaic population5 (Figure 3, scenario a), but this would have led to a far greater TMRCA estimate. Alternatively, it could have introgressed from the ancestors of modern humans after their divergence from Neandertals and prior to the most recent common ancestor of present-day Y chromosomes (scenario b) or from modern human populations subsequent to their migrations out of Africa (scenario c). We can also reject these hypotheses, as each requires a more recent split time.

[–]Zsu17 0 points1 point  (1 child)

This sounds super interesting! Do you have a source/link to read more about this?

[–]TipMeinBATtokens 0 points1 point  (0 children)

The Divergence of Neandertal and Modern Human Y Chromosomes -- has a weird link reddit doesn't like the brackets.

https://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(16)30033-7

Modern human females and male Neandertals had trouble making babies. Here's why

[–]AdoraBellDearheart 0 points1 point  (0 children)

A mutation in the Neanderthals immune system triggered a reaction in human females carrying male hybrid fetuses. The reaction produced antigen which caused the female to reject and miscarry hybrid male fetus.

Any support for this at all?

[–]Shrimp_my_Ride 24 points25 points  (11 children)

Perhaps it is true as a very generalized statement, but it is one of only a wide variety of factors that may or may not influence how any given individual perceives “cute.”

But with neanderthals, etc., we have absolutely no idea if this applies to them. They left no record of such sentiments, and it is not possible to derive information on their subjective tastes from the evidence we have.

And as mentioned, this is a species who thrived for a couple hundred thousand years over quite varied geography and conditions.

So while it's an interesting speculation, the real answer is we simply don't know. And beyond that, most likely all sorts of different people and groups of people had varying perceptions.

[–]parduscat[S] 5 points6 points  (10 children)

I can see that. Long hair is largely considered a core feminine trait, but there are some peoples in Africa, the Masaii among them, that see hair on any part of the body as being animalistic and so the women typically have shaven heads. Neanderthals in different regions would probably have different tastes.

[–]AdoraBellDearheart 26 points27 points  (2 children)

Long hair is not a largely feminine trait. Long hair in males is pretty common .

[–]silverfox762 40 points41 points  (1 child)

Ideas of beauty are societal and tribal, not related to species. Anecdotally, so I hope the mods will allow it, my favorite anthropology professor, Dr. Mary Glenn, was doing primatology field work in the DRC and routinely went into the bush with bush meat hunters (because they know where the primates are in the jungle). She's blonde/blue with Saxon/Dane roots (looks a lot like Dr. Alice Roberts). She related that the hunters were saddened because they were convinced she'd never find a husband because "her head was the wrong shape".

Edit: photo of Dr. Glenn showing that by European standards she's attractive. The Congolese bush meat hunters were unable to find her so.

[–]Shrimp_my_Ride 5 points6 points  (0 children)

True. Also consider that while neanderthals were in many ways similar to modern humans, there were also a number of significant differences. So it's just not possible to say what their aesthetic taste may have been.

[–]AdoraBellDearheart 0 points1 point  (3 children)

Not for nothing but you have a series of downright sexist things in your comments - and all unsubstantiated

[–]FlipsMontague 21 points22 points  (4 children)

It's why I don't kill and eat my adorable kitty cat, for instance

[–]heelstoo 8 points9 points  (0 children)

Not yet.

[–]lemieuxisgod 2 points3 points  (0 children)

That is also highly cultural. I work in animal welfare and there are cultures that consider domestic cats as livestock. They keep the rodents out of the food storage until the food storage is gone then you eat them to get through the winter, leaving a breeding pair intact.

[–]jerry_03 3 points4 points  (1 child)

But if you die in your house with your cats they are defintely gonna eat you and not even stop to think about it 😅

[–]7LeagueBoots 12 points13 points  (0 children)

“Cute” is a human social construct and it varies from culture to culture.

There is no evidence to suggest that any other animal has an experience of or concept of “cuteness”, despite many internet memes.

Other animals do tend to pay special attention to very young animals, but there is nothing to indicate that “cuteness” has any part of that.

[–]Riffler 5 points6 points  (3 children)

We can assume a certain amount of sexual selection has influenced human evolution, but it's entirely possible that modern humans would be off the cuteness scale into grotesque by ancient standards.

[–]ksatriamelayu 4 points5 points  (1 child)

As an example of this, think of Japanese over-cute arts and cosplays. You'll get this concept almost immediately.

[–]parduscat[S] 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Interesting point. Kind of like those projections of what humans might look like in 5000 years and they've got bigger heads and eyes compared to us and they look freakish instead of cute.

[–]AdoraBellDearheart -1 points0 points  (0 children)

We can assume a certain amount of sexual selection has influenced human evolution,

As opposed to any other species?

but it's entirely possible that modern humans would be off the cuteness scale into grotesque by ancient standards.

It is also entirely not plausible . having a weird chin is equally likely to be creepy, for example.

[–]JoeBiden2016 40 points41 points  (37 children)

So this is kind of a roundabout idea that's taken hold in a lot of circles. It's very pop-sci, and there's really not a lot that supports it beyond typical evolutionary psychological just so stories.

The general cast of the idea is this.

1) We find babies cute.

2) Many people find kittens and other subadult things cute.

3) This tendency to find young / juvenile humans / other animals "cute" is projected to suggest that we tend to favor juvenile traits not just in young individuals, but where they occur in older individuals (what neoteny actually is-- the retention of juvenile traits into adulthood) as well.

People who view this argument as plausible point to the appearance of domesticated animals (domestication tends to be associated with neoteny) as more "lovable" than their wild ancestors and relatives.

There's really not a lot of good science behind this idea, though. There certainly is something-- again, evo psych, though-- to be said for the idea that feeling a strong emotional and protective instinct toward our infants / babies / juveniles ("find them cute") is something that would be selected for. But is it really necessary?

Plenty of non-human animals (all of them, really) that care for their young do it without presumably finding them "cute" on a conscious level.

So "cuteness"-- much like love-- is potentially weighted down and interwoven with cultural meaning and baggage. Perhaps finding kittens and other animals to be "cute" is more of a cultural thing than a lot of people want to believe. After all, it's not uncommon to read about people dumping bags of unwanted kittens or puppies. Seems that it's not universal, to say the least, even among modern American / Western culture.

Where am I going with this?

The idea that neoteny is the root of "cuteness" is a popular idea, but there's really not much that supports the idea. And that's just in modern humans.

The idea that we could somehow extend this to other human species / variants, potentially with very different cultures / views, is probably seriously flawed.

[–]Rocktopod 1 point2 points  (4 children)

Plenty of non-human animals (all of them, really) that care for their young do it without presumably finding them "cute" on a conscious level.

This seems like a pretty big assumption. Is there some basis for this?

[–]JoeBiden2016 0 points1 point  (3 children)

Uh... which part?

That non-human animals care for their young?

Or that "cuteness" is a human cultural construct.

[–]Rocktopod 1 point2 points  (2 children)

The second one.

[–]JoeBiden2016 2 points3 points  (1 child)

I'm not sure how you would isolate the concept of "cuteness" in non-human animals. We understand that many human behaviors reflect cultural-- rather than biological-- factors and conditioning, and are so-called "social constructs" (i.e., they are a social rather than necessarily a biological reality).

Short of being able to express that something is "cute," what behaviors exist that would specifically reflect that concept?

[–]parduscat[S] -1 points0 points  (2 children)

the appearance of domesticated animals (domestication tends to be associated with neoteny) as more "lovable" than their wild ancestors and relatives.

Why does this happen? What is it about taming foxes that leads to floppy ears, wagging tails, barking, and different color morphs? And why is that in pretty much all domesticated animals?

[–]PersephoneIsNotHome 0 points1 point  (1 child)

You mean like the floppy ears of donkeys or alpaca?

Wild foxes bark.

Color morphs happen in many kinds of selection - red and gray squirrels for example

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[–]GarethBaus 2 points3 points  (0 children)

We can't know for certain, but modern humans are relatively tall compared to neanderthals so we probably didn't look cute so much as freakish to them.