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Creativity set us apart from Neanderthals

Scientists have identified for the first time several genes linked to creativity that differentiate Homo sapiens from Neanderthals.


In simplistic terms, creativity can be defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to achieve certain valued goals. It is a multifaceted concept that can be assessed in terms of particular aspects of intelligence and/or personality. The most widely used psychometric test for assessing a creative personality is the temperament and character inventory (TCI).

The emergence of creativity within early Homo sapiens is thought to have given them an advantage to adapt to the environment and provide greater resilience to ageing, injury and disease. But what exactly sparked this emergence of creativity in modern humans is one of the most fundamental questions about human nature that has intrigued scientists. Due to incomplete fossil records and ambiguous interpretation, major controversies persist about the basis for human creativity. Moreover, despite sequencing chimpanzees and Neanderthals genomes, the genetic basis for the emergence of creativity in humans remains a mystery.

Evolution of genetic networks

In this study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers used data-driven methods to conduct genome-wide association studies of the TCI. They specifically performed this in three different samples with different environments and cultures (Finns, Germans, and Koreans). Next, the team studied the 972 genes identified for personality in Homo sapiens, many of which were also found in the genomes of Neanderthals and chimpanzees. Of these genes, 267 were unique to Homo sapiens. Most of these genes (95%) were not protein-coding, showing that what distinguished these relatives was the regulation of gene expression.  

The team were also able to determine what regions of the brain those genes, and the genes they interact with, were overexpressed in. The regions found are involved in human self-awareness and creativity, and also include regions that strongly associate with human well-being.

These findings provide insight into understanding the factors that enabled Homo sapiens to replace Neanderthals and other species. The authors hypothesise that creativity may have given Homo sapiens a selective advantage, which enabled them to be spread and be more successful than other human lineages.

Image credit: By pch.vector – freepik

More on these topics

Ancient DNA / Evolution / Genetic Variants