Constant technological revolution, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conventions, and global awareness at the speed of light. All parochial lifestyles of inertial repetition, with their residue of illusions and prejudices, are flushed into the void. All that is solid melts into electric air, and each person is left naked to face with sober senses their true identity and relationship to the entire world.
- Nu Manifesto (with apologies to Karl and Friedrich)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Domesticated Foxes

In a previous entry, I discussed a Russian experimental breeding program in which foxes were bred for tameness. Scientists found that the foxes became more dog-like with each generation, both mentally and physically. National Geographic recently published a photo of the latest brood:

They are not only cute, but also more socially intelligent than wild foxes. This article in Current Biology discusses the results of the breeding project:

Dogs have an unusual ability for reading human communicative gestures(e.g., pointing) in comparison to either nonhuman primates (including chimpanzees) or wolves . Although this unusual communicative ability seems to have evolved during domestication, it is unclear whether this evolution occurred as a result of direct selection for this ability, as previously hypothesized, or as a correlated by-product of selection against fear and aggression toward humans —as is the case with a number of morphological and physiological changes associated with domestication. We show here that fox kits from an experimental population selectively bred over 45 years to approach humans fearlessly and nonaggressively (i.e., experimentally domesticated) are not only as skillful as dog puppies in using human gestures but are also more skilled than fox kits from a second, control population not bred for tame behavior (critically, neither population of foxes was ever bred or tested for their ability to use human gestures). These results suggest that sociocognitive evolution has occurred in the experimental foxes, and possibly domestic dogs, as a correlated by-product of selection on systems mediating fear and aggression, and it is likely the observed social cognitive evolution did not require direct selection for improved social cognitive ability.

These sociocognitive and physical traits are believed to be part of an overall process of neotenization in foxes, in which adults behave more like puppies. Many scientists believe humans have undergone a similar process, which is responsible for enhanced social skills and reduced aggression as well as physiological "cuteness." See more here.

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