Saturday, 26 October 2019

ADHD, the hunter-gatherer hypothesis and orchid children

When I came up with my hunter-gatherer vs farmer hypothesis I was researching personality differences between people (e.g. openness to experience), giftedness, ASD and altruism in connection with the OXTR gene. No other research at that stage pointed to a hunter-gatherer origin of these phenomena until I discovered Thom Hartmann’s hunter-gatherer hypothesis in connection with ADHD. In brief: Hartmann speculated that ADHD might have benefitted hunter-gatherers in the Savannah due to the hyperfocus it comes with more than the farmers that came later who required more routine focus on their work. You can imagine ADHD a bit like a radar that circles around until it hits something interesting and then hyperfocuses.

ADHD is linked to the DRD4-7R allele, which is associated with novelty seeking. This variant has a much higher occurrence in nomadic populations (hunter-gatherers and pastoralists) than among sedentary farmer populations. 

Hyperfocus is not only common in ADHD, but also in ASD (special interests) and gifted children. My gifted son wouldn’t stop learning about a new special interested until there wasn’t much left to learn about it. He was hyperlexic as a toddler and learned three different alphabets around two years of age. He was so focused on learning each alphabet that it took him merely a few days to learn the Russian and Greek alphabets:

My hunter-gatherer hypothesis had come full circle and ADHD was only another piece in the puzzle. ADHD is often comorbid with
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Sensory Integration Disorder
  • Learning Disorder
  • Dyslexia
  • Early Speech/Communication problems
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders (and picky eating in childhood)
  • Substance abuse
  • Addictive behaviors and addiction to digital media (last 4: source here)
My hunter-gatherer hypothesis had already “predicted” many of these traits as a consequence of a mind that is programmed to work in a different environment than in a “farmer world”. Extreme childhood anxiety and depression are hard to understand otherwise, as the kids often haven’t experienced a trauma that would explain their condition. One “solution” would say, the kids have a genetic defect, as ADHD, as well as many of the other conditions, run in families. However, there are no “recent” mutations that would point to genetic defects, all of the involved genes are ancient genes, part of our hunter-gatherer heritage.
You often hear stories about six-year-old gifted children who find the world extremely unjust and they wish they had never been born. Gifted kids are more prone to commit suicide as teenagers of adults and above all gifted kids are often “orchid children”, i.e. they may turn into beautiful flowers or just wither away. There is also a high incidence of "twice-exceptional" gifted kids, i.e. kids who are both gifted and have learning disabilities (typically ADHD, dyslexia and ASD).

In my work as a teacher, I have found that “hunter-gatherer” kids tend to be among my star students, as well as being overrepresented in special education. Here is the motley crew of hunter-gatherer kids in schools:
  • The gifted (i.e. excellent grades plus tend to choose difficult college majors after high school)
  • the creative kids (interested in writing, creating videos and animations, etc.)
  • Special ed kids (ADHD, ASD, ODD, etc.)
  • The outcasts (isolated kids with social anxiety)
  • The “weirdos”: Emos, Goths, geeks, and nerds
  • Teens with self-harming behavior (cutting, substance abuse).
  • The problem kids (no homework, asocial or antisocial behaviour)
  • The dropouts (the kids who are frustrated with our education system)
All of them non-neurotypical hunter-gatherer minds. Not all of them suffer from ADHD, but symptoms tend to overlap. If you think of Einstein you can assume that many of them would have applied to him, like ASD, early speech disorder, dyslexia, ADHD and depression.
ADHD has also some other surprising links. When two of my hunter-gatherer students were talking about their iron-deficiencies recently, I was reminded that I had the same condition myself as a kid. A few minutes of googling later I found out that there is a well-known connection between ADHD and iron deficiency. While this article here claims that iron deficiency causes ADHD, I think it is more likely that there is simply a correlation. Hunter-gatherer kids (gifted, ASD) tend to be picky eaters in childhood.

Another ADHD link connects ADHD with red hair. Redheads have always been said to be fiery and hot-tempered. If true, it would confirm my impression that hunter-gatherer minds are overrepresented among redheads. 

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Patterns in history: hunter-gatherer rebellions and revolutions for a more egalitarian society

Karl Marx defined revolution as a return to the “original” egalitarian social organization of hunter-gatherers. I have argued that different subsistence economies have left their evolutionary mark on human personality so that nowadays we have got mostly “farmer” types, followed by “pastoralist” and “hunter-gatherer” types. We, therefore, live in a  predominantly materialistic farmer world. However, due to repeated hunter-gatherer rebellions, we also have predominantly idealistic hunter-gatherer values when it comes to social organization: egalitarian, democratic, tolerance of diversity. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution were hunter-gatherer movements. Liberté, égalité, fraternité were not only brought about by the French revolution but have been hunter-gatherer values for millennia before the advent of farming.

Therefore it seems likely that Marx himself was a hunter-gatherer type (intuitive, or N in Myers-Briggs). Indeed he is usually typed INTJ and it can be expected that other communists are also N types. It seems they are so without exception: Lenin, Pol Pot (INTJ), Stalin (ENTJ), Mao, Castro, Che (all ENFP), Engels (INTP). Many of these people turned from well-intentioned leaders to evil dictators, though. How come? It is impossible to turn a mixed society of farmer, herder and hunter-gatherer personalities into a communist utopia. Even if society consisted only of hunter-gatherer types, such organisation would not possible on a large scale. The communist leaders knew this intuitively and that is why they became paranoid and started to see enemies everywhere.
Even before the French and communist revolutions, there were hunter-gatherer revolutions. Many of them religious and fighting the inequalities that arose due to agriculture: Jesus (INFJ), Muhammad (INTJ), Buddha (INTP) and later religious rebels when religions became too “farmerized”, like Martin Luther (INTJ) and Jan Hus (INTP).
Going back to the times of early farming you find hunter-gatherer personalities fighting for a more equal society. Hammurabi (INTJ) and his famous Codex come to mind.
The 20th century saw civil rights hunter-gatherer figures like Martin Luther King (ENFJ), Malcolm X (ENTJ) and Gandhi (ENFJ), as well as protagonists for feminism (hunter-gatherer egalitarianism also includes women), like Simone de Beauvoir (INFJ).
The 21th-century hunter-gatherer movements have mostly been about tolerance towards diversity  (Obama, ENTP has been a champion) and the discussion about universal basic income. The list of advocates for basic income features some really big name hunter-gatherer personalities: Elon Musk (INTJ), Mark Zuckerberg (INTJ) and many other Silicon Valley tech billionaires.
What about the common folk? The era of hippie, punk and metal rebellions seemed to have passed in popular culture. The protests have become much quieter now, but they are still there and manifest themselves in phenomena like Greta Thunberg (INTJ), the green movement, hipsters and purple and green-dyed hair.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Redhead origins: Eurasian hunter-gatherers

Redheads are special. They are said to have a very fiery temperament and to be very rebellious and hard-headed (source). Recently I came across an article that said that redheads are overrepresented in Math, Science, Philosophy, and comedy (source) and one person on Quora asked: “Why are there so many redheads working in media jobs?”.
All of the above traits are typical for a certain personality type, intuitives or “N” (in Myers-Briggs), who I have hypothesized have more original “hunter-gatherer” genes than other personality types (“farmers” and “pastoralists”). Plus I teach in a school with media classes, and those classes have an extraordinarily high percentage of N types (more than 50%, even though N types make up only around 25% of the population).

Another piece of information that got me interested in redheads is that they (like gifted and autistic people) 
tend to look younger than their age in childhood and their teens. This fits well with my hypothesis of r/K selected personality types, with “hunter-gatherers” being the last group to reach puberty. Moreover, redheads seem to be more prone to ADHD, Tourette syndrome and ASD, all of which are not untypical for hunter-gatherer personality types. 
So I started to look for some famous redheads and it turned out that the majority of the ones I found are indeed N types: Prince Harry (INFP like his wife and his late mother), Ed Sheeran (ENFP), Nicole Kidman (INFP),  Felicia Day (ENFP), etc.  

I tried it with a random list from an interesting 
  • Socrates
  • Galileo
  • Darwin
  • King David
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Mark Twain
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Queen Elizabeth I
  • JK Rowling
  • Jane Goodall
N types again: Van Gogh (INFP), Darwin (INTP), Galileo (INTP), Jefferson (INTJ), Twain (ENTP), even King David (unusual redhead for the region) is commonly typed INFP.
That is not to say that all red-haired people are “hunter-gatherer” personalities, but such a high percentage of a rare personality type in redheads is quite remarkable. Where does it come from?
We typically associate red hair with Celtic origins. The Celts were of Indoeuropean origin and those were farmers and pastoralists. So, redheads should really be descendants of farmers/pastoralists, then? Some more research revealed that red hair is also found outside the Indo-European territory, among other the Udmurts in Russia, who are completely unrelated to the Indo-Europeans. What Celtic redheads and Udmurts have in common though is Y-haplogroup R1b, which shows a high correlation with the distribution of red hair (and the respective MC1R gene).  
If we compare the map with the Indo-European expansions (farmers from Anatolia, pastoralists from the Russian Steppe), we find that there is actually not much correspondence between the Indo-European expansions and red hair. On the contrary, it seems there is actually a “hole” in the redhead map, wherever the early farmers arrived in Europe.

Indo-European expansions (eradicating red hair?)

I asked myself, “What if it is actually the other way round?”. What if redheads were endemic to Eurasia and common among European hunter-gatherers (like they were in Neanderthals) and that it started to disappear with the arrival of farmers and herders? What if the Indo-Europeans actually punched a hole in the redhead map of Eurasian hunter-gatherers? The later early farmers and Indo-European pastoralists arrived, the more redheads left. Of course, it is historically documented that at least some Indo-Europeans (Celts and Thracians) were redheaded. However, they might have been so due to admixture with Eurasian hunter-gatherers. The Yamnaya, the population of Indo-European pastoralists that probably brought most of the Indo-European languages to Europe, are thought to have had a 50% hunter-gatherer admixture.
A European region that caught my particular interests: the Basque Country. The Basques are among the people with the highest rate of R1b and Basque is most likely and ancient hunter-gatherer language* that far predates the arrival of farming even though the Basques are likely a mix of early farmers and hunter-gatherers. It should be strange that one of the few non-Indoeuropean people in Europe has such a high rate of R1b, which supposedly migrated with the Celts. It is more likely IMHO that is had been there long before the arrival of farming in Europe.

Why should redheads belong mostly to the “hunter-gatherer” personality type if these ancestral populations all mixed up in the end? Perhaps they didn’t mix that well after all. It could be that they preferred to mate with their own “kind”. Indeed, Helen Fisher has found out that certain personality types tend to seek mates among their own group:
It could, therefore, be that red hair has been mostly stuck with “hunter-gatherer” types through sexual selection.
Wherever they came from, I (brown-haired) find redheads incredibly cool and likeable and I hope they won’t ever disappear from the human gene pool.

Dedicated to Marisa, my redheaded, one-year-old daughter and Sophie, Alexander and Andrej, who were reddish when toddlers. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Social anxiety rising

Anybody working with a lot of young people nowadays knows that social anxiety has been increasing in the past twenty years or so. Many possible causes have been proposed, from smartphones to genetics. While I don’t think that smartphone “abuse” is a cause (rather a symptom) I do think the genetic part has a lot to do with personality.
The following personality traits (OCEAN) are linked to social anxiety:
  • Neuroticism
  • Introversion
  • Openness to experience
The “People who are introverts and very open to new experience tend to have the highest levels of social anxiety” (see here). While neuroticism and introversion are perhaps no big surprise, openness seems to be in need of an explanation.

Openness correlates strongly with the trait “intuition” or “N” in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI, not recognized by most scientists, but easier to operate with than the OCEAN).

About 10-15% of preschoolers are already painfully shy, so there definitely seems to be a strong genetic component. This figure also corresponds to the number of introverted intuitive (IN) types. IN types are rare and many often realise as kids they are different from the majority of people, probably increasing their inborn social sensitivity. When I started using MBTI for my research I quickly found out that it was not only me (INFP) who was very shy as a kid, but also pretty much of my IN friends, my two IN sons and many of my IN students at school.I take the test with all of my classes, and the very shy students are almost always IN, occasionally also IS and to my initial surprise also EN students, as I didn’t expect extraverted teens to suffer from social anxiety.
So, what’s the story? My sons, even though a bit shy (which is not unusual for little kids) didn’t seem to display unusual social behaviour until they started kindergarten and school. My oldest son was a gifted kid and couldn’t really connect to anyone in kindergarten and neither later in school. My younger son (INTJ) seemed to be more “normal”. He did have two friends in kindergarten but suddenly found himself more isolated in elementary school. He does have two boys he talks to, but otherwise doesn’t talk to anybody else and calls himself “asocial”. What happened?

My hypothesis is that social anxiety depends a lot on (not) making connections with others. In kindergarten, my INTJ son had and ENJT best friend and an ENFJ friend who he did like a lot, but grew tired of more quickly.  IF you see the four letters as “magnets” that attract each other, it is easy to see how kids connect with each other. Both boys were rather technologically minded (T) and had what I call 
“hunter-gatherer minds” (N). The biggest differences were that my son was more careful, less active and wanted to have fewer social interactions due to his introversion. In elementary school, the kids he gets along best with is ISTP, so much more different than him already. In Myers-Briggs, the biggest obstacle for a successful relationship is the N/S dimension.

Basically, this is what happened to my oldest son. He couldn’t find any other (I)N types with similar interests and therefore didn’t find anybody to connect to. IN kids, therefore, are already aware early on that they are different and become shy because the have a feeling of non-belonging. A lot of people on Quora have told me that they felt like aliens in their childhood, some of them desperately waiting for a UFO to pick them up and take them to their “species”.
If childhood can be bad for IN kids, their teens can be much worse. IN kids often look younger and may show delayed bodily development compared to other kids. What happens is, that the precious kids (often SPs, as these are often the first to enter puberty) tend to establish a social hierarchy with bullying and teasing and their easiest victims are the IN kids, as they are both behind in development and “egalitarian”, i.e.  they are not “programmed” to fight for an “alpha position” or to fight at all. It is easy to see how shyness can quickly develop into social anxiety under such circumstances. Even without bullying social isolation can get worse as IN kids can’t understand the other kids' obsession with sex, cars, competitive sports, branded clothes, make-up, etc.
The same can be true for extraverted intuitives (EN). Even though they might have many friends in elementary school, they increasingly don’t understand them and become isolated, too. Whereas their IN counterparts might have already been diagnosed with ASD in childhood, the EN kids might get diagnosed with ASD now that they are in their early teens, because they didn’t show many signs of social isolation before.
Why is social anxiety rising? Because kids are less and less connected in early childhood: fewer siblings, fewer possibilities to get connected, particularly if they are introverted. In that case, even their parents' encouragement to make or meet friends are often futile. One father told me that he had to bribe his son with buying video-games for him if he agreed to meet kids from his school. He said, it cost him a lot of money, but it did help in the end.