January 19, 2007

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude

Why is Respectable Opinon so sure that there isn't the slightest kernel of truth in Afrocentrist rantings about African Sun People and European Ice People? I'm not saying that Dr. Lionel Jeffries knows anything about biochemistry, but I am saying that there seems to be some sort of correlation between gloomy, cold weather and gloomy, cold personalities, just like there is between sunny, warm weather and sunny, warm personalities. And that if the chemical at work is not melanin, it's worth finding out what it is.

Personally, I don't know whether being tanned keeps me happy (as "melanin science" would suggest), but getting tanned sure lifts my mood for at least a few hours. What is the biochemical mechanism behind this?

Further, there seems to be a very rough but real relationship between latitude and attitude, with hotter climes correlating with hotter moods. This is a consistent theme through most literature at least since Shakespeare, with his hot-blooded Italians and melancholy Danes.

I read an article about how Tromso, Norway, the farthest Northern small city in the world, has no higher rates of seasonal depression than elsewhere. But, it appears from reading the article that Tromsonites have evolved a culture of self-therapy emphasizing near-mandatory conviviality during winter and bright artificial lights.

Further, self-selection is no doubt going on with people who can't stand the winters getting out of Tromso and others who don't mind them migrating in. If there is a genetic component to Seasonal Affective Disorder, this self-selection of darkness-likers will accumulate over the generations.

There's no doubt a big cultural component in this latitude-attitude correlation. For example, a culture is more likely to develop the charming tradition of shooting guns off in the air to celebrate (e.g., more Baghdadites were killed by falling bullets during peace celebrations at the end of the Iran-Iraq war than were killed by Iranian missile attacks during the eight year war) if it's not 20 below outside. In places where it's too cold to go outside, a culture will emphasize developing the kind of self-restraint that keeps you from blasting holes in the ceiling. There is probably also a biological component, but it's not clear if it's hereditary or environmental. In other words, when Jimmy Buffett sings that changes in latitude mean changes in attitude, is he correct for within an individual, or just across ethnic groups?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Grumpy Old Man said...

There's probably more human evolution related to climate than what we know about (light skin as an adaptation to Vitamin D deficiency, the Bergmann-Allen rule about body shape and surface to volume ratio).

I've long speculated that depression is part of an adaptive polymorphism. Depressives provide a salutary pessimism and inertia; ADHD types provide adventurism. If seasonal affective disorder keeps people cautious and safe in an Arctic winter, it might be adaptive. Or it might be a side effect of something else adaptive.

This is all speculation, of course. But if there was no climate-related evolution, we'd all have rickets.

Grumpy Old Man said...

Correction: light skin as an adaptation to scarce sunlight to prevent Vitamin D deficiency.

Hank said...

James Watson got into some trouble a few years ago for speculating that there may be a connection between melanin and behavior.

Nobel Winner's Theories Raise Uproar in Berkeley - Geneticist's views strike many as racist, sexist

Andy said...

Is this just another way of saying that blacks would be happier back in Africa? And we to see them go?

Obama Bin Laden said...

There's got to be something to this. Contrast New Englanders with Floridians (both with a similar East Coast mix of ethnic groups). One reason New Yorkers are kind of cagey and Gollum-like is that there's no light in that city (everything is blocked by skyscrapers).

Deserts also do something wierd to people. Everyone from Paul of Tarsus to modern UFO types see humanoids out there, for some reason.

It seems like seasons (with some nice crappy weather thrown in) are pretty good for industrial productivity. Nothing seems to get done close to the Equator.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what's up with Finno-Ugric people. Both the northerly Finns and their central-European cousins the Hungarians have some of the highest suicide rates on the planet, so it can't just be the latitude at work there.

Rob-ot said...

Steve, did you notice that some of these population differences could be things that are usually attributed to sexual selection, but Cochran thinks are pleiotropic from natural selection for personality variants?

Like if men were selecting for monogamy, they'd be indirectly selecting for blondes, if blondes have a lower sex drive. Hence the prevelence of blondes in Northern Europe.

Fat in different locations acts differently biologically, so maybe steatopygia is an adaptation to store fat in a way that does not reduce ambition? Or maybe it just minimizes insulation value.


Anonymous said...


This is a rhetorical question. Do you think if the African continent extended further south almost touching Antartica, the tribes furthest south that had to deal with cold weather and "real" winters would have ended up forming alliances with one another, built cities of more remarkable construction, and generally have been more advanced in 1900 than the rest?

I personally do and I'll tell you why. They would have HAD to in order to survive the cold. The division of labor for tree cutting and stone gathering for building construction, the necessary hunters and possibly fishers to procure food, the need to gather pelts for clothing and burning wood to stay warm would have made spare time to wage war and "act out" at limited in my opinion. They would have been busy about the business of building a civilization whether they wanted to or not, much like Europeans in colder climes.

Of course I may be wrong about all of that. I myself, for whatever genetic reason (rather light brown hair, blue eyes) prefer overcast, cloudy days very very much over sunny ones. The sun literally hurts my eyes, even when just driving. I really dont like it at all anymore, and truthfully kind of like 50-60 degree weather.

Xhevahir said...

I've read something about a blue eyes/blond hair/pale skin/shyness complex. I think hay fever was a part of it, too.

Anonymous said...

The Egyptians didn't have cold winters, and they seemed to do pretty well in the state formation, stone-hauling, metalworking, empire building sort of thing. And looking at the pre-Columbian Americas, the sophisticated cultures grew in the tropical forest (Maya), Mexican highlands (Mexica-Aztec), and near-equatorial mountains (Inca), but areas with climates closest to northern Europe were fairly unsophisticated in contrast. Heck, even Northern Europe was a bit of a cultural backwater until fairly recently in history, with all the real action happening down in the sunnier Mediterranean (though Italian and Greek winters can themselves be pretty unpleasant.)

Bobby said...

Of course climate has an effect on character - why do you think so many people wants to move to a sunny beach somewhere..? To be happy.

What's more interesting is the psychological effect of climate on races who are not in their geographic original area.. I've heard stories of whites driven mad by the sun in Africa, and perhaps vice versa is true too.

The conversation seems to have strayed into matter of civilisation. If we look back to a thousand years ago:

The blue-eyed Northern Europeans at the same time were not producing anything of similar quality.

Iceman said...

There´s one big problem with describing Europeans as "ice-people". The human group best adapted to cold is the Mongoloid branch of humanity, not Caucasians.

Anonymous said...


Aside from having a boatload of skin cancers (ewww! there's an image), the English, Irish, and Scots seem to have done just fine and thrived in Australia, the sunniest and driest inhabitable continent. Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore has accounts of British administrators marvelling at how the children of London' stunted convicts grew up tall and strong in the fresh air and sunshine of Australia.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to address the "Egyptian thing" as it is always brought up agianst ancient northern Europe.

Folks WE SIMPLY DONT KNOW what was built in ancient northern Europe because what was built was probably built in WOOD. Wood, of course, decays and degenerates. Finishing products that waterproof wood (like oil used on sun-backed bricks in Mesopotamia) were probably pretty darn hard to come buy in 200 B.C. in the Netherlands or Poland for example. I imagine villages of log houses would have been around then as they were in 1700 A.D. because getting large stones to build castles would have been a large community effort in Europe in those days.

Egypt, with its monuments, is an anomally. Big stones hulled out of stone cliffs, floated down a river that runs south to north, is something of an anomally.

Also, one has to point out the relative living conditions of the average Egyptian during these times. Few people lived in palaces back then, the majority lived in little mud-brick or stone brick huts like those that are seen during the recent uncoverings (they literally just dig them out of the sand) around Giza. Hawass has dug up what is believed to be the builder's quarters and homes of the folk who worked on the pyramids. They were not opulent. No more impressive than what can be found in Catal Huyuk in Turkey, and a matter of fact, less so.

To take this vein further..........Egypt was an anomally in Africa itself too. It was easily more advanced than anything we find in sub-Saharan Africa. There is no doubt that all the cultures that flowered in the near East and around the Mediterranean were more advanced due to interaction and influences and competition with each other.

Thursday said...

Just to clarify, there are two separate questions here that need to be kept separate.

1. Does exposure to the sun make you happier and more outgoing?

2. Does natural selection select for happier and more outgoing personalities in sunny areas?

They are not the same thing.

Theo_musher said...

People in third world countries do seem happy.

jerry-t said...

anon: "Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore has accounts of British administrators marvelling at how the children of London' stunted convicts grew up tall and strong in the fresh air and sunshine of Australia."

This reminds me of someone I saw on a train outside London. He was clearly ethnically Chinese, but had the kind of rangy bodyshape that I associated with only one country. When his cellphone rang, I knew before he opened his mouth to reply that he would have an Australian accent. There's a lot of elbow-room in Oz. Goldfish in large tanks are bigger than those in small bowls.

Anonymous said...

"the children of London's stunted convicts grew up tall and strong in the fresh air and sunshine of Australia."
High protein diets probably helped.

SFG said...

I'd have to agree. Shyness and caution are great traits in the cold weather where you have to be forward-thinking to stockpile food to survive the winter. They are not going to get you laid in tropical areas.

As for whether sun makes you happier, sure. Seasonal Affective Disorder, for example. I've even heard that some types of depression (such as those that cause decreased psychomotor activity and hyperphagia) were adaptations to cold weather and a sort of 'hibernation'.

Steve Sailer said...

Another question is whether too much is bad for your brain -- look at the lousy NAEP scores of white students in California and Hawaii.

meep said...

I'm still trying to figure out how this trend relates to the Irish and Scottish, both groups being more hot-headed than the English (from my own experience). Scotland obviously is north of England, and Ireland is at least on par.

I could go into anecdata as well, but I've found myself much happier here in NYC than in North Carolina... but I think that's a function of not getting allergies here and then a bunch of non-environmental factors.

Anonymous said...


The statue you linked to is famous because it is unique. It is the only sub-Saharan figure on record that shows correct human proportions. In a sense, it's the David of sub-Saharan Africa. It's lovely, but it wasn't the norm for sub-Saharan artistic output at the time.

Atlantic said...

This reminds me of something I just read in Roger Scruton's News from Somewhere. He says that there is a noticeable character/mood difference amongst the longstanding farming families of the area in which he has settled and the area where his wife comes from, only 15 miles away. He attributes it to the quality of the soil and the resulting differences in ease and type of farming.

Atlantic said...

Also, re the portrayal of ancient northern Europe - there is definitely a bias towards portraying that time and place as more primitive than necessary. I wish I could remember where it is, but there is/was a great page somewhere showing a graphic example - the typical portrayal of an Iron Age roundhouse dwelling is quite primitive (eg one big room, surrounded by nothing in particular, tree stumps for seats, etc), but if you throw in some nicely built wooden chairs and tables, wooden or fabric "room" dividers, a few decorations, and a path and garden area - all of which are perfectly consonant with the technology of the time - suddenly it looks a lot more civilised and sophisticated.

Night Person said...

And then there are those of us to whom the whole matter of sunlight is irrelevant because we sleep all day and stay up all night. I have tried many times to force myself onto a daytime schedule, with no success. My brain is apparently hard wired to be awake at night and sleep in the day. So be it. It has been years since I have seen the sun high in the sky.

Anonymous said...

Re. ancient northern European civilisation:

NARRATOR: In the dark heart of Europe an area traditionally seen as primitive and uncivilised, three thousand six hundred years ago it seems that a complex religion had taken root. Drawing on influences from across the known world.

Prof MIRANDA ALDHOUSE GREEN: These symbols are all part of a complex European wide belief system. Whereby people looked at the heavens, worshipped them, worshipped the sun, worshipped the moon, aligned their monuments on the sunrise or the moonrise. And because Nebra has brought all these symbols together it tells us for the first time perhaps what people were really seeing, perceiving and believing. It’s not too presumptuous to make a comparison between this disc and a biblical text, the Old Testament. In a way the Nebra disc is a visible of that version of that kind of encoded sacred message that we find in the bible.

NARRATOR: So this was the great revelation of the Nebra Sky disc, it was a bible. Bronze Age European man had been able to codify his entire religious belief in a simple portable form. This could not have been the work of a primitive uncivilised people.

Prof MIRANDA ALDHOUSE GREEN: We’re dealing with people who had tremendous ability, not only a technological skill, but also immense intellectual ability. They were able to conceive of their world, they were able to represent it. There is tremendous imagination here, and there is an ability to encode information and beliefs and pass them down from generation to generation.

NARRATOR: Here in the supposed dark heart of Europe something profound and complex was happening three thousand five hundred years ago: civilisation was dawning.


Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebra_skydisk

It shows how little is really known about the ancient world when a single artifcact like this or the Antikythera mechanism can have such a revelatory effect.

Jarz said...

The CCNY professor who talks about ice people/sun people is Leonard, not Lionel, Jeffries.

Kitty said...

If cold weather makes people more placid and law-abiding, how do you account for the Vikings?

Also, I'm a redhead, a group both known for being short-tempered and sun-intolerant, being from Ireland and Scotland, both places known for gray, wet weather.