Don’t like your nose? Wish it was just a little wider or thinner? Maybe you wish it just a little bit longer? Whatever your rhinoplastic desires are, a recent study published by researchers from Penn State University claims that you have the climate to blame. According to lead author Mark D. Shriver, a Penn State anthropologist, this research dates back to the theories of 19th-century anatomist Arthur Thompson who coined what is now known as “Thomson's Nose Rule:”
In the late 1800s he said that long and thin noses occurred in dry, cold areas, while short and wide noses occurred in hot, humid areas. Many people have tested the question with measurements of the skull, but no one had done measurements on live people.
The thinking behind this theory is that a long, thin nose would humidify and warm air more efficiently than a wide nose; as people with narrower nostrils fared better in cold climates, those genes were passed on.
In their article published in PLOS Genetics, researchers claim their study is the first to confirm such a theory with scans of live individuals. Researchers used 3D scanning to map the facial features of 476 volunteers from four diverse locations; West Africa, East Asia, South Asia, and Northern Europe. They found that the colder the individual’s environment, the thinner that individual’s nostrils were.
The researchers point out that there could be other reasons this could have occurred, however, including differences in cultural standards of beauty around the world:
We find that width of the nares is correlated with temperature and absolute humidity, but not with relative humidity. We conclude that some aspects of nose shape may indeed have been driven by local adaptation to climate. However, we think that this is a simplified explanation of a very complex evolutionary history, which possibly also involved other non-neutral forces such as sexual selection.
Today’s science is opening completely avenues for anthropological research on entirely new levels thanks to genetics, scanning technology, and big data. This research comes on the heels of other studies which found one’s name has a profound impact on shaping the appearance of one’s facial features and Neanderthal DNA in the human gene pool contributes to drug addiction rates in modern humans. If our appearances are dictated by environmental factors, that could explain phenomena such as doppelgängers. There are all sorts of fascinating studies that could be done to investigate the extent to which we could affect children’s appearances as they grow - if we were allowed to experiment on human children, that is. Those pesky ethics, always getting in the way of science.