April 4, 2006

FOXY LADIES (via Pepys):

Why is a woman's brain smaller than a man's? Maybe because she's a fox (Terence Kealey, 4/04/06, Times of London)

WHY DO WOMEN have smaller brains than men? Male brains weigh around 1.25kg; female brains weigh on average 100g less.

One possible answer comes from an unexpected study of foxes. In 1959 Dmitri Belyaev, a Russian geneticist, launched a long-term experiment to tame foxes. Starting with a population of caged wild animals, he selected from each generation the puppies who were friendliest (or, initially, least hostile) to humans, breeding only from them.

After 35 generations he produced animals that had been transformed from the usual snarling fearfulness of wild foxes into animals that were similar to domestic dogs. The tamed foxes wagged their tails, whined for affection, were submissive, barked like dogs and their ears flopped. As Darwin said: “Not a single domestic animal can be named which has not in some country drooping ears.” Belyaev seems to have concertinaed all this into 50 years when it took 10,000 years to domesticate wolves as dogs.

And the tame foxes’ brains were smaller. Domestic animals generally do have small brains. [...]

But would it be dangerous to suppose that women’s brains are smaller than men’s because, over the millennia, we men have been selecting friendly women with whom to breed?

Even setting aside the hilarity of the Just So story, the silver fox experiment leaves Jared Diamond's thesis in Guns, Germs and Steel in tatters. Man can domesticate anything he chooses to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2006 4:02 PM

Anyone else thinking of Steve Martin and Dan Ackroyd's "two wild and crazy guys:

Where are the foxes?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 4, 2006 4:15 PM

So that's what I've been doing wrong all these years. So long, I'm off to look for some droopy-eared women.

Posted by: joe shropshire at April 4, 2006 4:43 PM

try and get one with a flat head, as well.

Posted by: toe at April 4, 2006 4:50 PM

Is whining for affection a feature, or a bug?

Posted by: pj at April 4, 2006 5:27 PM

compare the health of your average coyote to the health of your average pet dog.

Posted by: toe at April 4, 2006 6:10 PM

I can picture Dr. Summers, lately of Harvard, reading this article with a knowing smile.

Posted by: Genecis at April 4, 2006 6:11 PM

So, women's brains are smaller because we're domesticated? Is this why we get the guys to mow the grass in 100 degree heat, squash the bugs, unplug the toilet and do all the dangerous, stupid, and crazy jobs that women won't do? Hooray for domestication!

Posted by: sharon at April 4, 2006 6:40 PM

As Steve Martin once said, "Now are the foxes!"

Posted by: Mike Morley at April 4, 2006 6:43 PM

Sharon: It's not that women won't do them. It's that those jobs don't pay enough.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 4, 2006 6:45 PM

I'll point out again that Diamond didn't say no other animals could be domesticated. He explained the reasons why more animals were not domesticated - usually for economic reasons as they consumed too much food, took to long to mature, or were too dangerous in captivity. For those reasons it was expedient to either tame wild animals or simply leave them alone.

I don't see how a domesticated silver fox challenges any of that. What benefits does it give man that we could not get from the wild species?

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 4, 2006 6:50 PM

The easiest way to test this theory would be to see if men's brains are getting smaller since women have become more empowered.

Let's assume that some time around sufferage (maybe before), women became capable of choosing mates at a greater rate than men were capable of choosing them (a tough thing to measure in any circumstance)

Left with no challenges, men certainly are becoming dumber, the question is only whether it's due to brain shrinkage or lack of usage.

Posted by: Bruno at April 4, 2006 6:58 PM

given that on average women are physically smaller than men it only goes to reason on average their brain size would be smaller too. and just how much difference is 100g going to make ? i know i must have killed off twice that much of my own brain with no bud affects.

Posted by: toe at April 4, 2006 7:15 PM


The same as dogs. We'd have domesticated buffalo had we had them instead of cows.

Posted by: oj at April 4, 2006 7:26 PM

God is Love
Love is Blind
Ray Charles is Blind
Ray Charles is God

Posted by: Elaine Kelley at April 4, 2006 9:43 PM

And Ray did like the ladies....

Posted by: oj at April 4, 2006 9:54 PM

Natural selection at work. Women with big brains didn't get the best guys, so ...

Posted by: erp at April 4, 2006 10:44 PM

Some dogs have floppy ears.
My dog has floppy ears.
Therefore my dog is some dog.

Posted by: triticale at April 5, 2006 12:21 AM

I'm trying to think of a floppy-eared cat.

Just more evidence that we've never domesticated cats, I suppose.

Posted by: BrianOfAtlanta at April 5, 2006 2:46 PM

"you milked a cat ?"

"you can milk just about anything with nipples"

"i have nipples, greg, could you milk me ?"

Posted by: toe at April 5, 2006 4:31 PM
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