Does Less Testosterone Mean More Art?

Jean-Baptiste Oudry, “Still Life with Monkey, Fruits, and Flowers” (1724) (image via Wikimedia)

Human civilization, and the artistic activities associated with it, came about as a result of a measurable decline in testosterone levels that began accelerating around 80,000 years ago, according to a study published in the August issue of Current Anthropology. The research, which started as an undergraduate thesis at Duke University by the article’s first author (and current University of Utah doctoral student) Robert L. Cieri, uses “a link between reduced aggression and cranio-facial feminization,” established in a study of silver foxes as the basis for its methodology: Cieri and his colleagues measured 1,400 human skulls to pinpoint changes in testosterone levels as manifest in facial features. A decrease in testosterone is thus associated with increased “social tolerance,” allowing for problem-solving that neural aptitude alone cannot accomplish.

The study found a striking relationship between decreased testosterone levels, as observed in facial features, and the development of human art:

Beginning sporadically in the later part of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and continuing with increasing regularity into the Later Stone Age (LSA) and Upper Paleolithic (UP), this interval witnessed the rapid florescence of new technologies … This period of rapid technological innovation is contemporaneous with the earliest evidence of symbolic behavior and abstract thought, in the form of pigment processing, personal adornment, incised notational pieces, musical instruments, and mobilary and parietal art.

How feminization works, according to the study. (from the original report)
Feminization trends, according to the study. (from Current Anthropology)

The study goes on to explain how social tolerance allows for the development of activities not essential for survival by creating the conditions for the communication of culture:

Social tolerance is necessary for effective cultural transmission of technological innovations and other behaviors … [S]hifts in social tolerance can relatively quickly and profoundly change behaviors because they allow individuals to utilize preexisting cognitive abilities in a new set of contexts.

Though testosterone may be ruinous to art at the level of geological time, current trends in major museum exhibitions, gallery representation, and salaries at art institutions persist in ignoring the evidence. Ban men.

comments (0)