Several fascinating but perplexing science reports have turned up in 2012, mostly concerning men. A September 19th report indicated that an Italian study had found a 10% shrinkage in “the average male penis” in the past 50 years.* This threw American radio commentator, Rush Limbaugh into a minor (for him) fit, in which he said, “I think it’s feminism…If it’s tied to the last 50 years–the average size of [a male’s] member is 10% smaller than 50 years–it has to be the feminazis, the chickification and everything else.” The researchers suggest weight gain, smoking, stress, and environmental pollutants. Then again, the social expectations for male behavior have changed a great deal in the last 50 years, so that would be one form of stress!
Poor Rush. Today, (12-05-2012) French researchers reported that the sperm count in French men has fallen “by nearly a third” between 1 989 and 2005.** It is not that the French are dropping into infertility; a change from an average of 73.6 million sperm per milliliter to 49.9 million, in the average 35 year old Frenchman, is still safely in the range that will produce many new French babies. However, the difference is extraordinary. They report that this has continued at a rate of 1.9% per year over this period. If it were to continue at this rate, this would be very serious indeed. It is assumed that some unknown environmental link is involved, but no hypothesis was advanced about this.
So, problems with French and Italian men, but no news about American males. Or is there? On May 30th there was a report from anthropologists at the University of Tennesee, that “white US skulls have become larger, taller, and narrower as seen from the front, and faces have become significantly narrower and higher). This was found in a study of skulls that cover a period from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s. They report these changes in both male and female skulls, and the changes seem to be proportional in both sexes. However, other references indicate that most of the 1500 skulls studied were originally donated by the person or family. This is also why this convenience sample is limited to white Americans. Especially, dating back into the 1800s, I would anticipate greater numbers of male skulls, whether donated because of an accident or because of pride of family. (I could certainly be wrong here, but I would bet this way).
Either way, we know that male skulls are increasing in size for sure, while penises appear to be shrinking, and sperm count dwindling. Each of these phenomena are reported for a targeted population, French in one case, Italian in another, and white American in a third. If these are not erroneous findings, they may apply at least to Western European males in general. Does skull size have any relationship to genital size? Sperm count? If your brain gets bigger does the rest shrink? (It may be unrelated to brains–just other skull fillers.)
One older thread on this blog might tie these together. Recall that these kinds of findings were reported here concerning facial structure:
1. A high width to height ratio for the male face is related to a greater likelihood of aggressive behavior, and even a greater probability of evaluating someone else as aggressive with that facial structure.
2. Narrow faced men, on the other hand, are more likely to die from contact violence than wide faced men.
3. This same width to height ratio predicts greater success in the CEOs (male) of large corporations. It was presumed that this represented greater aggressiveness.
4. And a study of US presidents (obviously male) found that this ratio predicted a greater achievement drive in this group.
So now we have males with higher and narrower faces, smaller penises, and dwindling sperm. Hmm.
It’s a leap from testosterone during development, to testosterone in adults, but it is pretty reasonable that it would affect these structural differences before and during puberty. Given that these differences are largely related to males, testosterone is a likely candidate. Testosterone is not directly related to hostility in most studies that I have read, but it is strongly related to high levels of disinhibition on Sensation Seeking Scales (impulsiveness, thrill seeking, pleasure seeking, and highly extraverted behavior), according to a 1980s article that I found in an old file.****
Perhaps there is nothing there but an interesting jumble of studies. Then again, Steve Pinker recently spent 802 pages trying to convince us that violence is declining in the world in The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. Narrower faces, smaller penises, fewer sperm, less violence? Maybe lower testosterone levels? Hmm, hmm hmm.
Problem with that? If this is confined to Western European males, would it be a blessing for them? For the rest of the world?
****Daitzman, R and Zukerman, M. (1980). Disinhibitory Sensation Seeking, Personality and Gonadal Hormones. Personality and Individual Differences (1), 103-110.
*****Pinker, Steven (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. London: Viking Penguin.