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No. 87: May-Jun 1993

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The Uniqueness Of Human Adolescence

What major biological characteristics separate humans from other animals? The usual list begins with our large brain and bipedality, but these features are shared with dolphins and birds, respectively. Even our peculiar reproductive biology (permanent breasts, continuous sexual receptivity of both sexes, etc.) no longer seem so unique, particularly after reading about the antics of the bonobos (pygmy chimps)! But wait! No other animal, even the other primates, go through adolescence. That time period between puberty and the attainment of adult stature turns out to be something uniquely human. The great puzzle of adolescence, according to B. Bogin, is its evolutionary origin. What possible advantage does adolescence confer on humans in the battle for survival? To the contrary, skipping the teens would appear to be an advantage in the survivability of parents! One guess is that adolescence -- all 8 or so years of it -- is required for the development of the complex social skills needed by adults.

(Bogin, Barry; "Why Must I Be a Teenager at All?" New Scientist, p. 34, March 6, 1993.)

From Science Frontiers #87, MAY-JUN 1993. � 1993-2000 William R. Corliss