Strong opinions, weakly held

Puzzling question of the day

Why did human beings adapt such that we look most distinct from one another when we’re adults? Babies, regardless of their race or ethnicity, look a lot alike. Our appearance also converges with our fellow human beings as we get older. Most everybody’s hair turns gray or white and our skin loses some of its pigmentation. As adults, we look as different from everyone else as we ever will. I have often wondered if there’s some biological explanation for why that is.


  1. Is it possible that you are simply around babies and old people very little of your time? It’s common that people from a group that we do not have much interaction with “look similar”, which really means we haven’t learned how to tell them apart very well. Or said another way: adult people mostly interact with other adult people in a certain age-range, and have thus perfected a range of (subconcious) methods of telling members of that group apart very well. When those mthods we use/features we look for ally vary in the same way for a certain new group, they all look alike. For example the size of the head maybe something we notice about a person (at least if it’s noticably bigger or smaller than usual), now babies all tend to have bigger heads than “usual”, so we tend to lump them into one group.

    So much for my totally unscientific, make up as you go along opintion. 😉

  2. Maybe this is just a visual signal for the arc of human existance –

    Dependence Fight for independence Independence Grudging dependence Dependence


  3. I think that when I was a child I thought that almost all adults looked alike, so there has to be an element of observer bias.

  4. Or maybe that if it’s obvious at an early age who the father really is, the subspecies dies off fairly quickly?

  5. Dan: actually, there’s an argument in evolutionary biology that babies tend to resemble their fathers because it’s advantageous to establish a paternal bond, and that’s the only sure way to do it.

  6. or maybe we only need to differentiate ourselves around the age of mating? (no selection pressure at any other age, really)

  7. I was going to make the same suggestion as acm, but actually I think Sencer/Andrew Brown’s idea is better.

  8. Convergent?

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means. 😛

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