Richard G. Petty, MD

The Naked Ape

When I am looking for new articles to analyze for you, gentle reader, I am very fortunate that Carol Kirshner, my web mistress (is that the politically correct term??), is also a researcher, and she does a great job of finding new items that are relevant to our basic themes. But sometimes I wonder if she is kidding me, as happened when she pulled up an article with the enticing title: “All the better to see you blush, my dear…”

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology just published a study in the Journal Biology Letters in which years of painstaking neurophysiological research lead them to speculate that the reason that primates evolved complex color vision was not, as previously thought, so that they could find the most tasty ripe fruit, but so that they could detect a blush on someone else’s face or, ahem, their posterior.

The main color sensing cells in the retina are the rods and cones, and it turns out that the cones are exquisitely sensitive to skin tones. The trouble with the old theory about color vision and fruit is that there has never been much evidence for it, and as someone who lives with horses, I know that they have some quite sophisticated color vision, yet are more than happy to munch away on grass.

This new study shows that primates have three-color vision, and the system seems extremely well adapted to pick up colors that are prevalent in the skin, in particular the amount of oxygenated hemoglobin in the blood. This three-color recognition system can signal a primate if a potential partner might be having a rush of emotion in anticipation of mating. It might also be the mechanism for telling if an enemy’s blood has drained out his face because of fear. And rosy cheeks, like smooth skin, are subconscious signs of health and vitality in a potential mate.

As the principle investigator – Mark Changizi – points out; old-world primates are all unique in that they have bare faces and bare posteriors. After all, there’s not much point in being able to see miniscule changes in skin color if the key areas are all covered up. So there seems to have been some co-evolution of the ability to see color modulations in the skin and the loss of fur.

Could this be the real reason for humans being the “Naked Ape?”

And I think that I shall leave it for you to consider all the implications of hiding a signaling system that has evolved over millions of years…

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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