The Francis Crick Institute
J Exp Zool Pt B - 2024 - Meneganzin - What is a trait Lessons from the human chin.pdf (838.33 kB)

What is a trait? Lessons from the human chin.

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-04-02, 10:16 authored by Andra Meneganzin, Grant Ramsey, James DiFrisco
The chin, a distinguishing feature of Homo sapiens, has sparked ongoing debates regarding its evolutionary origins and adaptive significance. We contend that these controversies stem from a fundamental disagreement about what constitutes a well-defined biological trait, a problem that has received insufficient attention despite its recognized importance in biology. In this paper, we leverage paleoanthropological research on the human chin to investigate the general issue of character or trait identification. First, we examine four accounts of the human chin from the existing literature: the mandibular differential growth byproduct, the bony prominence, the inverted T-relief, and the symphyseal angle. We then generalize from these accounts and propose a three-stage framework for the process of character identification: description, detection, and justification. We use this framework to reinterpret the four accounts, elucidating key points of contention surrounding the chin as well as other morphological characters. We show that debates over the chin carry broad and important biological implications that extend beyond this trait and that are not mere semantic issues of definition.


Crick (Grant ID: CC2240, Grant title: DiFrisco CC2240)