The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)


Session 15. Costly and Cute: How Helpless Newborns Made Us Human. Invited Podium Symposium. Chair: Karen R. Rosenberg

March 26, 2015 , Grand Ballroom D Add to calendar

Among the biological and behavioral foundations of humanness is the fact that we give birth to extremely undeveloped and dependent infants that require large investments in time and energy for 12–15 years. The consequences of this for an understanding of human evolution have often been alluded to but never fully explored.  This symposium examines the constraints on gestation, birth and infancy including both the costs and benefits with regard to obstetrics, energetics, cognition, thermoregulation and locomotion.  Presentation topics include:  What is undeveloped about human infants and how does their developmental state compare with other primates?  What is the state of neurological development of human infants in their first year of life?   What factors account for the relative immaturity of human infants at birth?  Contributors explore: anatomical effects on obstetrics, metabolic restraints on how long a woman can gestate a large-brained and large-bodied fetus, placental and immune factor challenges, and a premium on learning outside the womb while the brain is growing rapidly. 

Additional questions derive from exploring the idea that key human characteristics distinguishing us from other primates (such as our reliance on culture and alloparenting) owe a significant debt to the helpless infant.  What role did the need to carry helpless infants contribute to the evolution and refinement of bipedalism?   Did language emerge to facilitate contact between mothers and helpless infants?   Did the need to care for vulnerable infants lead to paternal, grand-maternal and cooperative parenting?   This costly developmental pattern is unprecedented among primates and relates to other distinctive aspects of our biology and behavior.  We examine both the costs and benefits of giving birth to such immature offspring and propose that infant helplessness and human social and cultural adaptations evolved hand-in-hand.

1:00 Add to calendar Introduction. Wenda R. Trevathan, Karen Rosenberg.
1:15 Add to calendar Are human infants altricial?. Karen R. Rosenberg, Wenda R. Trevathan.
1:30 Add to calendar The “obstetric dilemma” hypothesis unraveled. Holly Dunsworth.
1:45 Add to calendar Brains, birth, bipedalism and the mosaic evolution of the helpless human infant. Jeremy M. DeSilva.
2:00 Add to calendar Comparative Placental Ecology at the Maternal-Fetal Interface. Derek E. Wildman, Julienne N. Rutherford.
2:15 Add to calendar Birth at the extremes: exploring fetal-maternal obstetric and metabolic relationships in small and large primates. Marcia S. Ponce de León, Christoph PE. Zollikofer.
2:30 Add to calendar Plastic and fantastic: postnatal developmental changes and the evolution of the human social brain. Katerina Semendeferi, Kari L. Hanson.
2:45 Add to calendar Three prehistoric evo-devo trends and their possible relationship to high-functioning autism in modern humans. Dean Falk.
3:00 Add to calendar Expanding the network: Low testosterone men have multiple, diverse sources of social support. Evidence from a US nationally-representative sample . Lee T. Gettler, Rahul C. Oka.
3:15 Add to calendar Continued costs: postnatal maternal costs associated with breastfeeding and potential maternal strategies. E A. Quinn.
3:30 Add to calendar In A World of Allomothers, Privileging The Mother-Infant Dyad: Intellectual and Political Challenges of Giving All Their Due in Evolutionary Narratives. James J. McKenna.
3:45 Add to calendar Costlier inside or outside? The costs of baby carrying from pregnancy to weaning. Cara M. Wall-Scheffler.
4:00 Discussion: William Leonard
4:15 Break