Did kindness prime our species for language?

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Science  03 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6401, pp. 436-437
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6401.436

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An upstart proposal suggests that the building blocks of human language are a byproduct of a complex suite of hormonal changes that arose when natural selection favored cooperation among early humans. According to this hypothesis, lower levels of circulating androgens (including testosterone) and higher levels of pro-social hormones like serotonin have altered the brain in ways that allowed for the easier learning of complex calls, the ability to combine vocalizations, and the simple capacity to understand when other individuals want to communicate. Now, researchers are turning to genetic and behavioral evidence from domesticated animals—which exhibit similar physical changes—to explore the processes that might have led to our “language-ready” brains.

  • * Michael Erard is a writer-in-residence at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.