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back to article Wonder why you live longer than a chimp? Thank your MOTHER IN LAW

Grandmothers are the secret behind humans' living such long lives compared to our near relatives the apes, a computer simulation has revealed. “Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are,” says Kristen Hawkes, anthropology prof at Utah uni. Hawkes and colleagues of hers have long sought to advance their …

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Old women are useful

A theory I read, many years ago, is that the purpose of the menopause is to protect older women becoming pregnant because it is dangerous for them. Leading on from this, from the point of view of success of an organised society, it is vital to have a store of community knowledge - when to plant crops, what herbs are poisonous and which ones have antiseptic properties, etc.

Older, non child bearing women were the ideal repository for this knowledge and the mechanism for sharing it and passing it on; since they don't have the tendency (as old men did) to get killed while out hunting and fighting. The other advantage of older non child bearing women is that they do not represent a threat to younger women since the menfolk can't get them pregnant, hence they can move around a community freely, dispensing advice and useful gossip (or discussion if you prefer). Old men who try to wander round visiting young women for a chat are viewed with suspicion by everybody of course.

This is all old and ancient history and we modern humans are far more advanced and rational nowadays.

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Re: Old women are useful

The extension of that theory is that the incentives for women, from the perspective of increasing likelihood of genetic offspring surviving, shifts such that it is of more utility for women past a certain age to concentrate on assisting their daughters and sons with their own children, rather than simply keep trying to breed themselves. Hence menopause kicks in to enforce this role shift, maximizing the survival chances of their descendents across more than one generation.

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Re: Old women are useful

Yes on education.

We do not have schooling until puberty as an arbitrary choice. Children are made to be taught. They sometimes react against large groups, which are an arbitrary choice.

This is true for both girls and boys. So grandfathers can be useful too.

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Joke

Re: Old women are useful

Old men who try to wander round visiting young women for a chat are viewed with suspicion by everybody of course.

This is known in science as the Savile Effect.

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Coat

Re: Old women are useful

"hence they can move around a community freely, dispensing advice and useful gossip"

And boy, they do it well.

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Trollface

Re: Old women are useful

Who then is responsible for the spanking of the monkeys?

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Anonymous Coward

old men

Re the final paragraph - surely the mechanism suggested here benefits both sexes equally. It simply says that women who have genes for long life tend to have more descendants, because they can help their daughters have lots of children, hence over time the genes for long life are spread widely. This is completely gender agnostic - the children who inherit the gene for long life can be either female or male.

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ADG
Facepalm

Re: old men

Yes absolutely - and I thought this was an issue that needed raising initially.

Then I realised that it's probably El Reg's attempt at a mother-in-law joke....

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Anonymous Coward

Mothers-in-law help you live longer?

I think you're alive for the same amount of time, it just feels longer...

Anonymous coward for obvious reasons

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mothers-in-law help you live longer?

I personally think some of them are trying to shorten the lifespan of the previous generation so that they pop off before them, mostly due to stress-related illness!

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Interesting

But just about every animal species that has had examples kept in captivity by humans has seen greatly extended lifespans in those examples. Could the cause of our own relatively long lives be not the same as that of our captives? What I'm suggesting is that our big brains have allowed us to figure out things about how we live (e.g. shelter, heating, sanitation, medicine etc) which have contributed to our longevity and then to that of our zoo inmates as we applied it to their living conditions. Just a thought - I'm no expert on this stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interesting

" What I'm suggesting is that our big brains have allowed us to figure out things about how we live (e.g. shelter, heating, sanitation, medicine etc) which have contributed to our longevity"

That's way to simple and obvious to be a viable theory, how could you possibly hope to make money publishing that?

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Holmes

Re: That's way to simple...

I've always been more scientifically than commercially minded.

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Coat

So Bernard Manning was wrong?

“A police recruit is asked during an exam, “What would you do if you had to arrest your own mother-in-law?” He replies, “I’d call for backup.”

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So Bernard Manning was wrong?

And I used to think what Les Dawson said about Mother-In-Laws was just fanciful humour :P

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Anonymous Coward

I'm sure they could have worked in some references to unicorns and alien grays for good measure. How this kind of tripe can be considered science I'll never understand. It's making a WAG, building a cute story around it, then writing a computer "simulation" to see if the simulation can make the story remotely plausible. Then they send out a press release claiming they have "proven" their theory. I can write a computer simulation that will "prove" that Klingons will lose to Smurfs in a pitched hand-to-hand battle. Doesn't mean that it happened, doesn't mean that it could happen, doesn't mean that it's relevant....although it might be a bit fun to watch Papa Smurf school Warf in the finer points of judo. :-D

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Stop

Not sure what you mean....

> It's making a WAG, building a cute story around it,

I guess that is a deliberately derisory way of saying, "I form a hypothesis"

> then writing a computer "simulation" to see if the simulation can make the story remotely plausible.

I guess that is a deliberately derisory way of saying, "I test the hypothesis"

> Then they send out a press release claiming they have "proven" their theory.

I guess that is a deliberately derisory way of saying, "I publish the results"

Guess what, that's the scientific method short of any details of any aspects of prediction forming, which is a common situation in the historical sciences.

Just because you're being obnoxious it doesn't make you right.

It just makes you an arse.

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Headmaster

Re: Not sure what you mean....

Plus as any fule kno, it is spelled "Worf"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not sure what you mean....

> It just makes you an arse.

I guess that is a deliberately derisory way of saying, "I'm afraid to get involved in the discussion regarding the validity of using computer simulations as a method of evaluating long-term evolutionary hypotheses because I haven't a clue what the hell the issue may be and it kind of scares me to stand up and consider that maybe the guy has a point."

See? As long as you can redefine what someone else says you can make yourself look smart and someone else look like an arse. Except in your case it took less work.

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Trollface

back in favor

Last I heard the grandmother hypothesis explaining menopause was in disfavor or was just a minor factor but I guess its the flavor of the day again. Wonder if that stupid theory how humans evolved in shallow water is due for a revival by the pseudo scientists again soon also.

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Re: back in favor

took a lot of anthropology in school and it was entertaining but I quickly came to the conclusion why there is no money in it is because social science is more of the first word than the second.

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aquatic apes

Actually I found the theory that humans evolved in shallow water quite plausible. Humans have a number of interesting features no other ape has

- ability to control breathing and hold breath

- body density similar to water so can float and dive easily (and control when to breathe)

- largely hairless body, other than head (which tends to stick out of water0

- walking upright

It also seems that a diet of fish is far healthier than a diet of red meat for most humans, which might indicate that we're better evolved to eat fish than large mammals.

This doesn't make it true of course, but I wouldn't say the theory is stupid by any stretch.

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E 2

Re: back in favor

You must keep in mind when reading 'research' that scientists' decisions about research topics are driven in large part by fashion: popular topics get research grants; papers on popular topics get read and can lead to advancement.

In an effort like the one described here, attempting to explaining how evolution produces the results described, where the model contains only a subset of influences and is somewhat biased toward a certain result in any case, one must take the researchers with a large grain of salt.

Most 'soft science' is mostly conjecture.

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Bronze badge

Alternative explanation

Old blokes shagging the young birds.

Status being what gets the birds of course. The old blokes (OK, appealingly mature) have the status. Thus they have the opportunity, when wife 1 dies in childbirth (depressingly common out there in the real world before medicine up to 20% lifetime probability) to pick wife 2 from the teenagers.

Over time the genes that lead to living long enough to gain status through maturity spread. Lifespans extend.

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Re: Alternative explanation

Hello painfully single human...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Alternative explanation

Hey, it nearly worked for Jimmy (allegedly) ;)

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Angel

Breastfeeding is not contraception

Just check the number of women who come back to work after mat leave and are pregnant again. And yes, I know that not all of them breastfed - but many do.

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Silver badge

Re: Breastfeeding is not contraception

The current style of breastfeeding doesn't work all that well, it apparently needs the immediate access on demand style rather than timed feedings for the contraceptive effect to work.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Breastfeeding is not contraception

As well as access on demand, the child also needs to be 100% breastfed. I know a few mums who assumed they wouldn't get pregnant again because they were still giving one or two breastfeeds a day... guess what, that wasn't enough.

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And what about language?

I am all for grandparenting - from both sexes! But doesn't the ability to pass on years of experience through language add to the value of the old ones?

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Angel

Re: And what about language?

<insert fond memories of grandpa suggesting I pull his finger>

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The secret of old age

> Grandmothers are the secret behind humans' living such long lives

And here was me thinking the reason humans lived longer than chimpanzees was because we're far less likely to fall out of trees.

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Re: The secret of old age

So therefore... if we live longer because we don't fall out of trees, and this is attributed to grandmothers, it stands to reason that our grandmothers are trees! Next up, a life lesson book entitled, "My grandmother the Larch: Life Lessons."

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Coat

Re: The secret of old age

Don't be silly GT66, we all fell out of our mothers, not our grandmothers.

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FAIL

So

Kristen Hawkes creates a computer program to comfirme her belife and this is called science!

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Happy

Well hey

It worked for Jim Hansen...

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Re: So

Its called ' testing the hypothesis' you yokel. There is a difference between modelling a scientific idea and using a computer to 'prove' that the cloudcuckoolanders are right & God drives a Daewoo (although it would explain alot). You can use a computer to 'prove' anything, but if others cannot replicate your results then it isn't science - whether Fred Phelps likes it or not - scientifically proving the events of Genesis is not going to happen where the simulation conditions have any relation to scientific reality.

Any one who's not managed to accept this by now is alot like Pterrys deep downers, perpetually fighting a battle already lost.

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Facepalm

Re: So

You seem to have missed the part where no test was done.

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Boffin

Re: So

You know it is entirely possible to construct a model to test a hypothesis that fails right?

Probably not - those don't get reported. Doesn't invalidate the idea of using modelling though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So

If he does then he has some aversion to buying new cars? On the plus side it would be easier for him to get parts than for a fecking small Chevrolet where the Japanese/Korean parts shop man suspiciously claims they're all "American" now so he can't help, notwithstanding the SK factory VIN plate under the bonnet :P

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breast feeding opposes ovulation, but that is not

a good description of it:-

"acts as a contraceptive, in order to prevent"

It isn't designed.

It has the effect, which is selected becuase it confers a benefit.

For an article on evolution, best leave out design.

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Anonymous Coward

Conversely

I wonder whether Chimps are blaming their mothers-in-law for the truncation?

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45 year old grandmothers?

I know a town in essex where you could add a 'great' to that and not offend some down the pub.

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Alien

Great computer model

Just 'cos it works great in a computer doesn't necessarily make it true. Classic case of bad science IMO, or bad mathematical 'proof'. Grandmother theory is a simpler mathematical model than say, the incredibly complex model of a wide range of medical advances and people who take advantage of it. Not saying medical advances are right, just that because it would be harder for me to mathematically 'prove' doesn't make it wrong.

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Re: Great computer model

Lifetime extension due to medical advances has only been significant for abt 1% of the time theorised, really significant advances for about 0.2% of the time (~ 100 yrs)

There is no practical way to 'really test' hypothesis, but modelling the what ifs gives reasonably valid evidence - not proof, just 'best evidence to date'

Study the hypothesis & modelling, give some constructive criticism to make a better model. Let us applaud your 'good science'.

In the meantime, .............

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Re: Great computer model

So picking nits out of hair, not crapping in your own water supply, putting salves on wounds, taking a bath have only started happening in the past 100/0 years? You're need to oversimplify explains precisely my point. The study ignores too many variables to be worthwhile other than as a model.

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Re: Great computer model

Of course it is only a model - because that is all that can be done.

There is no reason not to do it tho, - it will either reinforce the theory, detract from it, or add nothing to the debate.

In this case a result was achieved.

"So picking nits out of hair, not crapping in your own water supply, putting salves on wounds, taking a bath have only started happening in the past 100/0 years?" Yes, thats (approximately) true, for most of us.

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Unhappy

Mother-in-laws ...

... visiting just make it seem longer.

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Childcatcher

Mutation percentage

I know they are just testing whether such an effect could exist, but a 5% chance of mutation is quite high I think. I guess they used a high number to reduce the number of generations the computer simulation would have to run through before the effect(s) became discernible.

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Anonymous Coward

Could it be

That having a mother in law encourages men to do more hunting, fishing, explore further lands, invent football and build the first sheds while at the same time discouraging them from partaking in extramarital sex or to bother the child's mother for any ever.

"not while the child is in the cave, don't you know any better, your like a neanderthal, why don't you make yourself useful pick up that club and go and get a deer or something. Can't you see she's busy, fine example of evolution you are as there's no way anyone would "Create" something as useless as you.....".

Model is already running in my mind.

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