Brain Topography

Although Richard Nisbett has written about long-term differences in cognitive style between East and West,  he is, I think, dismissive of the possibility that biology might explain such differences, or any other mental differences – at least publicly. He had a piece in the New York Times titled “All Brains Are the Same Color”, for example.

But as it turns out,  the three-dimensional geometry of the cortical surface is highly predictive of individuals’ genetic ancestry – there are regional differences in the folding and gyrification, as well as volume and cortical area.  I already knew that the Chinese had decided to develop their own brain anatomical atlas, due to average differences between European and  Chinese brains, but this article takes it farther.

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54 Responses to Brain Topography

  1. Patrick Boyle says:

    European and Chinese brains should appear anatomically different. Europeans are better on the verbal sub-tests and are Asians better on the non-verbal.

    • Kenn Teoh says:

      I thought this canard had long ago been disproven, and that only dolts like La Griffe du Lion assumed that the sub-par performance in verbal tests of recent immigrants to the West was in any way significant of innate ability?

      • Chupa says:

        That is just some delusion that leftists and the insecure put forward as hard as possible, none of them really believe it though. There’s been data about much smaller brains in large sections of the world for a couple centuries now, combined with much different brain shapes. The skull conforms to the brain not the other way around. In primates socialization ability for example can be determined just from the skull.

        Immigration keeps increasing and IQ keeps decreasing and crime and poverty keep increasing. You can kid yourself it’s all coincidence but the world that is created is what you will have to live in. And it is a world that is no better than the places all these immigrants came from, that is just reality.

  2. dearieme says:

    “Richard Nisbett has written about long-term differences in cognitive style between East and West, he is, I think, dismissive of the possibility that biology might explain such differences”: well, yes, because biology is just a social construct.

    Do labradors differ from corgis?

  3. John Hostetler says:

    When it comes to East-West differences the Chinese paper linked basically establishes by MRI that Nordics tend to dolichocephaly and East Asians to brachycephaly, ie what we’ve known for almost 200 years since Retzius.

    However, the new paper has a whole new level of promise, with its reference to varying “regional patterns of cortical folding.” Can someone with access to the whole paper please abstract the conclusions here?

    Meanwhile, I’m going to guess that the East Asians tended toward more complex folding in the parietal lobes, especially on the left, and the Europeans tended toward more complex folding in Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas, and possibly prefrontally as well.

    I’m intrigued they even had a decent sized ‘American’ sample. Assuming it’s Amerindian, perhaps they showed greater right parietal complexity. Africans may have had more motor strip, premotor strip and somatosensory strip complexity.

    I’d love to know how these predictions pan out.

    • Grelsson says:

      One of the figures in this new paper shows how much twelve separate regions of the cortical surface differ from an “ancestry neutral” brain in various populations. Turns out African and Native brains show highest deviation in pretty much all regions.

      Europeans and East Asians had less differentiation in comparison, most noticeable difference showed up in occipital cortex and posterolateral temporal region respectively.

  4. JayMan says:

    See also:

    National Prosperity | JayMan’s Blog

    At this high IQ end, we note that the high economic performers are Northwestern European (or NW Euro-derived) while the low performers are Northeastern European or East Asian. That is, Eastern European and East Asian countries do considerably worse economically than comparably intelligent Northwestern European countries.

    • Kamran says:

      Why does almost every study of this kind only look at northwestern europeans and east asians and contrast those two.

      Western vs Eastern

      There’s a whole range of populations in eurasia, north indians, south indians, iranians, russians, north caucasians, turks, greeks, central asians. And range isn’t the right word since these populations aren’t combinations of “westerners” and “easterners.”

    • dearieme says:

      Really: which year do they have in mind? Not 100BC I’d think. Nor probably 500AD either. Perhaps not even 1000AD?

      Personally I’d like to see all this silly triumphalism stop: it has an embarrassing “recentist” bias which invites the question “If you’re so clever how come you’re so ignorant of history?”

      • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        In Transportation, divergence, and the industrial revolution Nick Szabo points to what looks to me to be a key difference between Europe and Asia that started accelerating since about 1,000 AD.

        His stuff does not seem like triumphalism (or any sort of phalism) to me. It also seems important to understand the key differences in things like trust or clannishness that might lead one group to achieve at higher levels than another … because some parts of the space of possibilities might not be reachable without the appropriate characteristics.

        • Difference Maker says:

          I’m reminded of the elderly veteran of the Nationalist Chinese Air Force who laughed out loud when I, not yet out of my teens and hungover, asked if they had had horse drawn carts in his youth

          Later with more education it’s noted that the Chinese domains are apparently rather unsuited to the rearing of horses. Something to do with the soil. Hence the early obsession of the empires with obtaining horses of rare military quality.

          Though it should be noted that the Tang, famously a horse dynasty, had herds and a stud establishment of considerable size, with wild horserides finding their way into poems, trade networks, horses of a nisaean type & polo being common among the aristocracy, and the proliferation of horses modeled in ceramics

    • Toddy Cat says:

      As “HBDChick” is fond of saying, there’s more to HBD than IQ. And, it would seem, there’s more to national prosperity than IQ, although IQ is certainly important.

    • Difference Maker says:

      La Griffe du Lion took a crack at it:

  5. John Hostetler says:

    High trust trumps high IQ for wealth building, because business dealing with relatives only is mostly zero-sum for the society as a whole, not win-win the way dealing beyond one’s cousins is.

    High trust trumps high IQ for beauty building, because marriage dealing with relatives only emphasizes mainly wealth, not physical attributes such as strength and fertility.

    Then think about how these interact – how much easier it is for strong, confident, exploring people to create increasing net wealth, not stick to marrying their cousins to keep the same old pools of non-increasing wealth intact.

    High trust is why I suspect the key to differing brain structure in NW Europeans versus NE Asians would be prefrontal. If so, would that contribute to dolichocephaly?

    To me, one of the most intriguing questions remains why Eastern Europeans show basically the NW European mix of WHG/ANA/EEF genes, but their societies lack the high trust. Is it all cultural?

    High trust is the key differentiating feature of Western man. Until someone else learns to hack it.

    • I had three clever, snarky things to put in, but this caught me enough to forgo them. We are of entirely 30k of the North Sea ancestry (though 4 countries) and have adopted two Romanians, now grown, estimated IQ 92 and 107. They learned American trust as teenagers remarkably quickly, but I think not deep into their bones. Because of our experiences we know many Romanians, some of whom have moved to the US or Norway, some who stayed home or worked in Italy or Spain. Very limited data set, very limited sample size. But i would say that people respond to incentives rapidly and adapt to most of it culturally, yet they can quickly switch that disk for another and revert to low-trust mode quickly.

    • JayMan says:

      “To me, one of the most intriguing questions remains why Eastern Europeans show basically the NW European mix of WHG/ANA/EEF genes, but their societies lack the high trust. Is it all cultural?”

      (Does “cultural” have any real meaning in this context?) This would be why: see the above post or see here:

      Intraracial group variation and HBD Chick’s theory

      • JayMan says:


        Japan is not an exception.

        • dearieme says:

          Japan isn’t a high trust society? I had thought that it was usually categorised as one. As evidence, Japanese are clearly capable of building and running large corporations consisting of unrelated individuals.

          • JayMan says:


            Japan is a high-trust society, that’s my point. It’s not an exception to the overall pattern – except perhaps its location.

          • dearieme says:

            Hold on, Jayman. You said “East Asian countries do considerably worse economically than comparably intelligent Northwestern European countries.” Are you now arguing that Japan isn’t East Asian?

          • Bob says:

            “High trust” seems to be the HBD/social science equivalent of the Faustian spirit/Geist idea used in more philosophical discussions about Western history and culture. I think it’s supposed to refer to a characteristic particular to Western Europe.

    • Harold says:

      “To me, one of the most intriguing questions remains why Eastern Europeans show basically the NW European mix of WHG/ANA/EEF genes, but…”

      Is this true? In the plot linked below Russians look to be made of three components, only two of which are shared with western Europenas. WHG? + ANE? + something like Yakuts?

      • Grelsson says:

        Looks like it, but as you can see Lithuanians and Belorussians have much less of that “Yakut”, Belorussians especially look quite similar to some NW Euros, and they have normal East European issues. The component’s also more common in Japanese than in Chinese, but Chinese have lower “trust”.

        To go with that plot, here’s two PCA’s that include various European groups (dimensions 1-2 and 1-3). Various groups are separated but is there a trust-related pattern emerging there?

    • Chupa says:

      Tiny prefrontal cortex/morality center. In the north though, they are more ‘european’ in personality and have a phenotype with deeper eyesockets.

  6. Sinij says:

    Is this modern phrenology? Sure, there might be functional differences, but I remain skeptical that we can determine it with anything short of functional neural mapping.

  7. Matt says:

    The paper “The construction of a Chinese MRI brain atlas: A morphometric comparison study between Chinese and Caucasian cohorts” – Tang et al 2010, had subregional volume differences between a selection of two groups of N=35 Chinese and Caucasian men (the latter of which differed slightly from the Western Atlas in not having as large a brain, for one thing of note).

    The overall summed difference was with the Caucasian at 99% of the Chinese (size difference mediated to a large extent through larger brainstem and cerebellum in Chinese). (Indian vs Chinese children in Singapore were reported as having around 1% less brain volume at birth –, while for Malays vs Chinese it was 1.5% less volume).

    In Tang et al 2010, was a generally mixed picture across the brain, with some functionally different subregions of particular general regions of the brain being larger in Chinese vs Caucasian (e.g. lingual gyrus, orbitofrontal gyrus, gyrus rectus larger in Chinese within the frontal region, but not the whole region proportionately). Although there did seem to be a pattern with Chinese having what seems like a slightly more diffusely large brain and a generally larger temporal region in particular, while the Caucasian brains tended to be larger concentrated among regions across the whole top-centre and back of the brain. Slightly more right brain laterality in the Caucasian group and left brain laterality in the Chinese.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Are there any differences in topology between assimilated Chinese-Americans and genetically similar Chinese? Doesn’t seem implausible that things like tonal language and ideographic characters could leave a mark on something like this.

    Naturally I don’t expect that Chinese-Americans would have the same topology as whites, but it’d be interesting to see how they’d stack up.

    • Bob says:

      Ancient Greek was tonal and modern Norwegian is tonal. Old Chinese wasn’t tonal. Probably has nothing to do with it.

      • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        According to Wikipedia ( Norwegian seems to have two tones, although it does use them to distinguish words that otherwise sound the same.

        However, Mandarin has 5 (IMO, since third tone comes in two variants and there is a neutral tone) and Cantonese has 7 (since many/most speakers distinguish high level from high falling) but of course not all combinations are used.

        So, there does appear to be qualitative differences between the use of tone in Norwegian and Chinese. Of course, it could be that Norwegian has only just embarked on that journey.

        I wonder if Chinese languages will shift towards a more heavily polysyllabic language (as it seems to be doing) and to a non-tonal language (or differently tonal as English is)?

        • Bob says:

          It’s true that Chinese is much more tonal. Probably still doesn’t make much difference though.

          Mandarin is essentially a polysyllabic language. Most words in it are polysyllabic. Old Chinese wasn’t tonal and was mostly monosyllabic.

          • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

            Mandarin is essentially a polysyllabic language. Most words in it are polysyllabic. Old Chinese wasn’t tonal and was mostly monosyllabic.

            Sure, and evolving towards polysyllabic words is necessary when you reduce the complexity of each syllable, with Mandarin now having a much reduced set of finals and very small set of clusters of consonants (pretty much only gw, kw and shw–albeit written as gu, ku and shu in Pin Yin.) Becoming tonal seems to have been the first stage of that reduction in syllable complexity, but Mandarin has taken it much further than Cantonese.

            I wonder how long before they dispense with tones again and also move towards merging syllables together like English and other languages do.

          • Bob says:

            I don’t think they’re likely to merge syllables if they continue to use characters.

          • Kenn Teoh says:

            “Old Chinese wasn’t tonal and was mostly monosyllabic.”

            Interesting – do you have a source for that claim, and to Chinese from what period of history are you referring? I was under the impression that Tang and Song Dynasty Chinese contained more tones that modern Mandarin.

  9. Omar says:

    Greg, I have heard a lot that Asians have a lower verbal IQ than spatial IQ, but have they, in the absolute an higher verbal IQ than Europeans ?

    Btw, I want to help you in your research but I don’t know how much I should give, 60 dollars is enough as a donation or it would be useless ?

    Good continuation and sorry for the english !

    • gcochran9 says:

      60 dollars is fine.

      About the Asians vs Europeans question, don’t know off the top of my head.

      • Patricj Boyle says:

        Why don’t you know?

        When my doctor comes across a medical problem I have in which he might not be an expert he calls for a consult. He brings in another doctor who takes a look. That might be hard for him. He is admitting in effect that he isn’t the absolute leading expert on every possible condition. But he has the professional discipline to accept the opinion of another expert.

        Here there aren’t lives in the balance admittedly, but this is a serious venue for the dissemination of valid information.

        You know a lot about a lot of topics related to human genetics. Otherwise why would all of us follow this blog? But when something touches on an area outside your specific expertise it seems to me that you have an obligation to steer the issue toward someone who might know more.

        You brought up the issue, you have an obligation to point to the best data available.

      • Inductivist says:

        According to Lynn, with the Caucasian mean set at 100, mean Japanese scores at age 16 are: verbal (general factor) 100.8, comprehension 94.1, spatial 104.1, perceptual speed 118.1.

    • Jim says:

      I’ve read in different sources that Northeast Asian average verbal IQ is both slightly lower and slightly higher than that of Western Europeans. The main difference is in the spatial-visual\quantitative component.

  10. TWS says:

    I seem to remember reading something about something like this decades ago along with all the necessary denunciations and cries of hum-buggery.

  11. Rifleman says:

    He had a piece in the New York Times titled “All Brains Are the Same Color”, for example.

    Well New York Times + using the term “color” is a bad combo for an honest search for the truth about any racial/populational differences in biology.

    That Chinese babies vs Euro babies test was about brains not “culture”.

    I saw a test also about Euro American cooperativeness among young girls versus some Amer Indian girls. and it turned out as expected.

    Everybody knows White women can be an irritating and irritable pain in the ass. It’s about genes and brains and chemicals and yes it involves plenty of variation among humans like differences in personalities and tendencies in breeds of cats and dogs.

  12. Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    I wonder if the differences shown in A quantitative study of Australian aboriginal and Caucasian brains would show up in the surface topography.

    That is, perhaps this should have been obvious earlier.

  13. melendwyr says:

    Not evidence in itself of between-group differences – and technically it’s hard to be sure the differences aren’t acquired rather than inborn. But every little bit of data that works against blank-slate-ism helps.

  14. I’m giving this link because it shows a test where people from the west and east think differently.

    The second picture down shows a smiling boy with four frowning children around him. Is he happy or sad? Well, that apparently depends if you are from the east or the west. The westerners think the boy is happy while easterners are far more likely to call him sad because the children around him are.

    It apparently never occurred to Nisbett that the answer could be in part genetic. Or……he likes to make a living and not get scolded for evil racist thinking.

    How have easterners and westerners lived differently for thousands of years that could account for such a fundamental difference? Changes like this don’t happen quickly so the longer the different background the more effective it would be to differentiate the two groups. It just so happens that rice farming requires group cooperation far more than does the western style of agriculture. So…this could be the genetic push exerted that made easterners, descended from rice farmers, different in their attitude of belonging in a group.

    It’s a bit hard to understand how genetics could influence such a thing, changing ones’ reading of a face, but damned if this didn’t happen when we domesticated dogs. A wolf does not study your face looking for cues, but our domesticated dogs sure do. It is not a perfect analogy by any means. but it shows that genetics can mold behaviors that the blank slaters love to believe can’t be done.

  15. Lion of the Judah-sphere says:

    I wonder if Indians have more European brains or Chinese ones.

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