Genetic Basis for Domestication, and Hunting’s Effects

The two readings for this week covered relatively different subjects, the susceptibility to domestication some animals have at a genetic level, and how humans shifting to greater reliance on hunting affected us.

The physical characteristics associated with domesticity, soft fur, larger eyes, and relaxed friendly attitudes, constitute a certain phenotype.  With the experiments in domesticating foxes there is mounting evidence that this phenotype corresponds to a genotype.  That is, some animals are more likely to be domesticatable based on how easily they can be bred or naturally acclimate themselves to approach this genotype.  As was discussed in class, some of the early changes in dogs, like being more relaxed and friendly to humans, may have been the wolves adapting themselves to the niche provided by humans.

In the Dunn reading the idea that human’s long ancestral past as prey has greatly influenced our bodies and minds.  One example of the kind of physical traits we might have acquired from being prey is the tendency to give birth at night, when young be in a safer environment.  The evidence I found after a cursory search on the internet for studies suggests that the average time of birth is late afternoon, which would be safer as a time where there is still light, but a clan would probably be finding or have found a safe haven for the night.  Other ways predators have shaped us is our fight or flight response, which is common in prey animals as it allows quick decision making on the best strategy for survival.


To tie the two readings together, I would like to suggest that as our level of predation on other animals rose we began to breed ourselves to be quicker, cleverer, and faster, and, that once we domesticated animals and settled down into towns and cities, we began to domesticate ourselves.  Once we became sedentary, being more aggressive and specialized for hunting became a liability, so we selected for different traits, still cleverness, but social status, and charisma as well.  The new desired traits reflected the more complicated social structure that emerges with sedentary settlements.  While social skills are important to communicate a hunting pattern, they are even more needed for haggling over the price of bread, or arguing a point in civil debate.

8 thoughts on “Genetic Basis for Domestication, and Hunting’s Effects”

  1. The two things you hit on, giving birth at night and the fight or flight response were two of the more interesting ideas expressed in the reading to me. I think that the general instinct of some animals to protect their young is amazing, this including the notion to create the safest environment to give birth in which seems like something uncontrollable. The fight or flight response is interesting when applied to humans because I don’t feel particularly successful at either when faced against a predator. I already know that in any sort of dangerous situation I would choose flight simply because I have no ability to defend myself but this is a choice for others. Do animals already have a predisposed notion to fight or flight? Or, are some able to calculate the potential threat and decide between the two?

    1. I think it comes down to the individual and the situation in determining which response will be triggered, fight or flight, and both are similar in the release of adrenaline. Prey will likely specialize in either fight or flight, gazelles fly while a hippo may fight. Humans are interesting because individually we are prey, but as a group we are pack hunters. Depending on the situation we can run for our lives or attack in an adrenaline fueled frenzy.

      1. Humans do have such an interesting amalgamation of both characteristic predator and prey traits. The tendency to give birth at night certainly goes back to our ancestral days avoiding predators. So do our “fight-or-flight” neurological tendencies, and our tendency to live in large communities. But there are many human traits that align more with a predatory phenotype; front facing eyes, altricial young, and higher intelligence, to name a few. I wonder which of these characteristics were “selected” for as our ancestors bred and tried to survive- human beings seem to have the perfect combination of genes.

  2. I really like the concept of “domesticating ourselves.” Though I disagree with your implication that social status and charisma weren’t relevant in a hunter-gatherer tribe. I’d say they are relatively more relevant today but not necessarily in an absolute sense. Although, this domestication isn’t in the traditional sense (That would require eugenics). It is a kind of social domestication where various social characteristics are more favorable. But of course these favored traits change in the same way that clothing fads change.

    But I will ask the question: are we domesticating ourselves or are the larger social forces that emerge in a developed society domesticating us?

  3. I think the research you did about giving birth provides an answer that seems much more logical to me than Dunn’s explanation. I understood that nighttime would be a time when all the animals were together, however because our bodies are completely unfit to function in the dark, that still seemed a little illogical to me. Doing it in the late afternoon when nocturnal predators are not quite active yet, but everyone is still settling into an overnight location makes much more sense. I also liked your final thought about the process of human domestication. It kind of seems to me like the first wave of evolution you discussed, being faster and cleverer, sounds like natural selection. The ones who weren’t quick enough or who weren’t effective hunters did not survive. Then, as we settled down into communities, it began to enter a stage that was referred to on the radiolab as human domestication. This is an interesting difference to me. Is the first phase natural and the second artificial? Or is it all natural selection because humans, as a part of the natural world, act within “nature” and not artificially?

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