Have you ever wondered why it seems easy to tell the difference between different people, but you can’t differentiate between two penguins? Evolution may have a reason. A new study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that humans may have evolved to have a genetic facial diversity, giving other humans the ability to recognize each other visually much more easily.
While other animals are able to differentiate between each other using different methods, like pheromones or special audible calls (Hughes mentions Polistes fuscatus, a species that is “phenomenally diverse in their color patterning”) humans are primarily visual learners. As Hughes suggests, this may have been influenced by a specific benefit in survival for early humans, as these humans could have committed unwarranted acts upon each other if and when they confused one individual with another.
The National Geographic displays this reality effectively; Martin Schoeller shows readers the wildly ranging facial traits that humans possess, from different hair color and structure to different eye colors to differently shaped noses. He highlights that even in areas where different races of humans came about, they still manage to range in facial features.
Interestingly enough, this study has broken ground in the scientific community as different experts agree with or criticize aspects of the study. Along with an account from the lead researcher of the study, Hughes includes in her article quotes from Biologist T. Ryan Gregory at the University of Guelph in Ontario and Barnaby Dixson at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, both of whom have comments of criticism concerning the study. They pose an adjacent hypothesis that there could have been additional influences on the diverse facial makeups of humans – ranging environments causing different facial features to develop in different groups, for example.
Regardless of the circumstances that led to humans’ unique facial diversity compared to other animals, the reality of our genetic uniqueness is hard to ignore. Still, additional studies are already underway to analyze samples and their locations in order to determine the future of the theory. Will this theory hold ground or will it be disproven?