Erin Hecht

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Georgia State U.

Grant number

Gr. 9336

Approve Date

October 5, 2016

Project Title

Hecht, Dr. Erin E., Harvard U., Cambridge, MA - To aid research on 'Neural Adaptations in Response to Selection for Reduced or Increased Aggression'

Preliminary abstract: This project will test the hypothesis that humans — specifically, human brains — are ‘self-domesticated.’ For over 100 years, anthropologists have theorized that some of the selection pressures experienced by our ancestors during the emergence of human society paralleled those experienced by animals during adaptation to life within human society, or domestication. Animal studies suggest that selection for reduced aggression affects multiple traits linked by a shared developmental genetic cascade, and humans, bonobos, and domesticated animals both show many of these traits (the ‘domestication syndrome’). However, direct tests of this theory in the context of brain evolution have been limited. This is because the neural consequences of domestication are largely unknown, and the brains of humans and our living relatives differ so dramatically that any adaptations related to reduced aggression are intermingled with countless others. Moreover, an alternative to the ‘self-domestication’ hypothesis is that humans and chimpanzees have evolved increased aggression relative to a more peaceful, bonobo-like ancestor. The proposed research will address these issues by using a highly specific experimental model, foxes selectively bred for either reduced or increased aggression, to pinpoint neural systems that respond to these pressures. We will then test whether those specific systems show differences in a bonobo/chimpanzee comparison, and finally these systems will be measured in humans. These comparisons will be carried out using high resolution MRI and DTI imaging along with behavioral measures. This will experimentally test long-standing anthropological hypotheses about evolutionary pressures that may have shaped our ancestors’ behavior and brain morphology.