Quirks & Quarks

Helpless babies make for smart parents

An evolutionary feedback linking the size of babies' brains, their helplessness at birth, and the need for intelligent parents to care for them, may have shaped human history

Useless infants select for smart parents who make useless infants

Cute, but useless (Joshua Rappeneker, cc-by-sa-2.0)
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Newborn human infants are among the most helpless offspring in the animal kingdom, and that's probably why humans are so smart. Dr. Celeste Kidd, from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester, and director of the Rochester Baby Lab, has discovered a pattern in the animal kingdom that links intelligence in a species to helplessness in infants.

Her model suggests that helpless infants demand intelligent parents, in order to ensure their survival. But in order for a species to produce large-brained, intelligent parents, infants must be born early and relatively undeveloped - or else their heads won't pass through the birth canal.

This evolutionary feedback links intelligence and undeveloped infants, and applies to many species of primates she's compared.

Related Links

Paper in PNAS
- University of Rochester release
CBC Newsstory
The Economiststory
- Washington Poststory