neoteny

The research, writing and genius of a man named Ashley Montagu became very important to me early on in my research. My interest revolved around a single word I had never heard before: neoteny. Neoteny describes a trait of select animal species that retain juvenile traits into adulthood. Think of dogs, who remain playful throughout their lives, as compared with their wolf cousins, who play as pups but quickly outgrow that impulse. Think too of otters, who remain playful and curious throughout their lifetime, and even retain the rounded facial features of their young (a classic sign of a neotenous species). Humans also have these neotenous characteristics – Montagu spends his whole book Growing Young describing and explaining the extensive support for this claim through the models and research in the fields of anthropology, anatomy and physiology, and psychology. Being neotenous means humans can (perhaps must?) keep learning and adapting and evolving throughout our lifetimes instead of becoming rigid and unmoving in our ways at an early age, as many other animals do.

Montagu’s visual that shows the similarity of juvenile skulls alongside the drastic change in the adult chimp (non-neotenous) and the relatively small changes in the adult human (neotenous)

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