What are the differences between Homo sapiens and Neanderthal? And why did our ancestors wipe out our ice age cousins some 40,000 years ago? There is still no clear answer to these questions. Archaeological finds and recent DNA analyzes reveal that Neanderthals were much more similar to our species in behavior and cognitive abilities than previously thought. So where is the difference?
Igor Zwir of the University of Granada has found evidence that our ancestors were far superior to Neanderthals, especially when it comes to creativity. Compared to other hominids, Homo sapiens displays remarkable creativity. “It also reflects innovation, flexibility, advance planning, symbolism, self-confidence and cognitive conditions,” the researchers say. To find out whether this creative superiority is reflected in brain function and genes, Zwir and his team first determined which parts of the modern human brain are responsible for various personality traits and creativity, and which genes are controlled by them. For this, they performed standard personality tests based on brain scans and genetic activity analyzes with participants from different cultures.
According to the results; Humans have three neuronal networks. These 3 networks have a significant impact on our creativity and innovation ability. The first network is the emotional network and is especially effective in overcoming difficulties in learning and social areas. The second network is used for self-control and above all it controls consciousness and decisive planning and problem solving. The third network covers aspects of self-awareness and self-control. Each of these functional regions in the brain is controlled and influenced by genes that are clearly separated from each other.
After identifying a total of 972 genes running these networks, the researchers checked whether they were also present in Neanderthals and our closest relative, the chimpanzee. For this, existing DNA sequences were used. The result is that the three species are very different from each other in terms of these gene networks. Of the 972 genes, though, 509 are found in all three hominid species, and the other 148 are also found in Neanderthals. But the remaining 262 genes are found only in Homo sapiens, our species, and they are closely linked to creativity and problem-solving thinking.
These “typically humanoid” DNA sequences are not classical protein-coding genes. Because they overlap in Neanderthals, chimpanzees and humans. These are the pieces of DNA better known as “Junk-DNA” that regulate the activity of protein-coding genes. It is estimated that they run complex processes related to adaptation, resilience and health. Further analysis revealed that the genetic differences between chimpanzees, Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens are distributed to varying degrees across the three “creative webs.” Accordingly, emotional creativity hardly differs in the three types. Researchers attribute this to the fact that this brain region developed in the common ancestor of the three species.
According to scientists, this primitive network developed in apes and apes 40 million years ago. In other networks, however, the situation is different: self-control and self-confidence. Their genetic basis is almost nonexistent in chimpanzees, but only partially present in Neanderthals. The research is significant as it reveals for the first time genotypic differences between chimpanzees, Neanderthals, and modern humans, which could spur the emergence of other aspects of human creativity and modern behavior.