National Geographic

Are We Making Animal Brains Bigger? My New “Matter” Column for the New York Times

The Stanford biologist Stephen Palumbi wrote an excellent book some years ago called The Evolution Explosion, in which he argued that humans have become a powerful force in the evolution of life. We’ve altered the whole planet, so that now many species are traveling on new evolutionary trajectories. (For more, here’s a review of the book I wrote for the New York Times Book Review.)

Over the years since Palumbi’s book came out, scientists have documented more examples of our effect. This week, I was intrigued to come across a new study that we may be even altering the brains of animals. It’s the subject of my new Matter column for the New York Times. It’s only a preliminary study, of course, but it does raise some fascinating questions about the mental challenges animals now face as they navigate a human-dominated world. Check it out.

There are 6 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Anarcissie
    August 22, 2013

    Unfortunately, the Times will allow me to look at only ten articles per month unless I give them money, which I won’t do, and I’ve used up my ten. From my point of view, your article has disappeared behind the wall. Too bad; it sounds interesting. I’ve certainly noticed evidence of evolution among the species that live off humans, such as the invasion of suburban areas and sometimes cities by raccoons and coyotes.

    [CZ: Sorry you hit your limit. But in order for writers like me to report on interesting science like this study, the Times and other outlets have to find a way to make it work financially.]

  2. Rdizzie
    August 22, 2013

    It is an interesting concept. Now it can be argued a few ways. But I think that human intervention have made some animals more intelligent, and if this allows for their brains to grow then yes it is very possible we are. We see apes that now fish with spears from watching humans, just for one example as there are others. Cats are also a good one, cats were one of the first domesticated animals. Which cats are very smart in their own rights but, cats found that where humans were there was an easy and abundant source of prey that they fed on. Humans found that cats kept away vermin. So maybe Animals have also made us more intelligent also. These are just 2 examples and there are many more where it goes both ways. I would love to see more studies on this. But also I think there is a lot more we can learn from animals from their behaviors. Just my opinion though.

  3. Dan J. Andrews
    August 22, 2013

    I was going to ask if the rest of the animal was increasing in size as well. If the rest of the animal was increasing in size for some reason (e.g. better food sources, fewer predators that were originally harvesting the bigger animals), that wouldn’t mean the brain itself is altering. Thought I’d spotted something obvious the authors missed….but upon scanning the paper I see the authors did control for body size. There goes my Nobel prize.

  4. prabhjot bajwa
    August 24, 2013

    what is the effect of brain increase on these animals nd it is good or bad for them. it is quite interesting to know all about this .Plz tell us such a gud nd interesting things about the science world

  5. Lamiaa
    August 24, 2013

    Nicely written Carl…WOW…Evolution in action!
    But is a 100 years period enough for such huge evolutionary changes? I thought that such changes would require much longer period of time…How is that possible! If this discovery is right, I think it would be a new score point in the favor of theory of evolution.

  6. serious kirkland
    August 26, 2013

    What’s gone happen when all animals turn on use what gone be food supplies if they got a disease’s.

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