Posts tagged with "Duke University"

Duke scientists: It’s survival of the ‘friendliest’—not fittest

July 21, 2020

British naturalist Charles Darwin got it right—but maybe we got Darwin wrong. Most people assume that Darwin was talking about physical strength when referring to “survival of the fittest,” meaning that a tougher, more resilient species always will win out over its weaker counterparts. But what if he didn’t mean that at all?

Scientists Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, a husband and wife team of researchers at Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, believe something else has been at work among species that have thrived throughout history, successfully reproducing to sustain themselves, and it has nothing to do with beating up the competition, The Washington Post reports.

Their new book, Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity, published by Random House, posits that friendly partnerships among species and shared humanity have worked throughout centuries to ensure successful evolution. Species endure—humans, other animals, and plants— Hare and Woods say, based on friendliness, partnership, and communication. And they point to many life examples of cooperation and sociability to prove it.

“Survival of fittest, which is what everyone has in mind as evolution and natural selection, has done the most harm of any folk theory that has penetrated society,” Hare says. “People think of it as strong alpha males who deserve to win. That’s not what Darwin suggested, or what has been demonstrated. The most successful strategy in life is friendliness and cooperation, and we see it again and again.”

“Dogs are exhibit A,” he told the Post. “They are the extremely friendly descendants of wolves. They were attracted to humans and became friendly to humans; and changed their behavior, appearance, and developmental makeup. Sadly, their close relative, the wolf, is threatened and endangered in the few places where they live, whereas there are hundreds of millions of dogs. Dogs were the population of wolves that decided to rely on humans — rather than hunting — and that population won big.”

In nature, for example, flowering plants attract animals to spread their pollen, forming a partnership that benefits both. “The plants provide food and energy, while the animals provide transportation for the pollen,” Hare says.

Before focusing on dog studies—Hare founded the Duke Canine Cognition Center—both Hare and Woods studied bonobos, apes that are often confused with chimpanzees. But bonobos actually are quite different from chimps.

Chimps make war — males take charge — and can be quite violent, even killing one another. Bonobos, on the other hand, are governed by females, don’t kill one another and engage in sex to maintain a peaceful collective temperament. Bonobos also are natural sharers. They enjoy sharing food with other bonobos, and never outgrow their willingness to do so, unlike chimpanzees, who become more selfish in adulthood.

“The friendliest male bonobo is more successful than the unfriendliest chimpanzee,” Hare says, referring to reproduction. “The most successful bonobo males have more offspring that the most successful alpha male chimpanzees”

For humans to continue to evolve successfully, he says, “friendliness is the winning strategy. Social problems require social solutions. The secret to our species’ success is the same as it is with dogs and bonobos. We are the friendliest human species that ever evolved, which has allowed us to out-compete other human species that are now extinct. When that mechanism is turned off, we can become unbelievably cruel. When it is turned on, it allows us to win. We win by cooperation and teamwork. Our uniquely human skills for cooperative communication can be used to solve the hardest social problems.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Two groups reach the peak of human endurance: extreme athletes and pregnant women

June 11, 2019

While pregnant women are often said to be “in a delicate condition,” the truth is, many of them have the mettle and stamina of a top athlete.

The average person can burn up to 4,000 calories—a limit that a group of international scientists considers to be the peak of human performance—before depleting the body’s energy stores. And while extreme distance runners reach maximum performance during high-intensity races, expectant mothers often expend the same amount of energy at a lower intensity over a longer period of time.

The research—published in the journal, Science Advances, on June 5—found that athletes who participated in endurance events such as the 140-day Race Across the USA, were able to maintain their intensity for short periods of time—but when competing in longer, high-intensity events, they weren’t able to replenish the calories they burned throughout the day.

“You can do really intense amounts of work for a day or so,” Herman Pontzer, a Duke University researcher who co-led the study, told CNN in an interview for a June 6 story. “But if you have to last a week or so, you have to maintain less intensity.”

Longer pushes require lower intensities, but over a short period of time, the human body can successfully exert 4,000 calories on average before hitting the wall. That’s 2.5 times the basal metabolic rate, or amount of calories a body needs to operate while at rest.

The average person won’t reach those limits in a typical workout (except maybe CrossFit, Pontzer told CNN), but pregnant women and extreme athletes cut it close. Weeklong races and nine-month pregnancies similarly push the body to its limits, often burning calories at a rate the body can’t keep up with.

Research contact: @CNN