Hey, Vsauce. Michael here. Why do humans wear clothing? Sure, we need it for protection from the
elements and fashion, to show our personalities, but no other animal makes and wears clothing. More importantly, why do we feel embarrassed
to be naked around other people? The word “embarrassed” comes from the Portuguese route, “embaraça”, which means to entangle or entwine. And feeling embarrassed often
feels like being tied up or exposed. But how can a healthy amount of embarrassment be a sign that you are likeable, forgivable and trustworthy. This t-shirt and hoodie come from the YouTube Space LA, which opened in November of 2012. But clothing has been around a lot longer than that, for at least the last 100,000 years. Clothing protects us from the cold, from rain, from the Sun and it can also be an ornament. A way of accentuating certain parts
of our bodies or showing off wealth, status. It can even help us build our own identities. But today I’m
interested in another use of clothing, modesty. Why are humans afraid to be naked? Why are we ashamed of nudity? Especially because animals pretty much
walk around naked all the time. Why aren’t animals embarrassed to be naked? Well… Let’s take a closer look at embarrassment. Embarrassment is a fascinating emotion and an extremely social one. You don’t ever really ever feel embarrassed
alone, when no one’s watching you or listening to you.
So, embarrassment probably evolved because
it is such a good influence on social cooperation. We feel embarrassed when we violate little social rules of conduct and each of us
individually hoping to avoid that, to avoid embarrassment,
has helped all of us live together better. Healthy brains experience embarrassment. Neurodegeneration of the frontal and temporal lobes can lead to less awareness of yourself. So a healthy amount of occasional embarrassment is a good thing. It’s a sign of a socially adept and normally functioning brain. A famous experiment involved participants watching an actor receive praise for achieving a very very high score on an exam. In some cases the actor was told to feign pride in the achievement.
And in others, they acted embarrassed to have attention put on themselves. Later, the actors and the participants played games together and the participants were more pro-social, friendly and cooperative with actors who earlier expressed embarrassment. It’s suggested that the actor was to be
trusted, that they desired to fit in and work together. Now, the fact that embarrassment displays
our knowledge of others and our desire to be liked may explain why evoking embarrassment
in others, whether it be flirtation or playful teasing, is so common when we kind of like the other person. Shame is a stronger emotion.
And shame, when it comes to our private parts, the kind nearly every
society – western or not – shares to some degree is related to the root of our question today, modesty. Havelock Ellis’ writing on the
evolution of modesty is a big antiquated when it comes to vocabulary,
but he discusses quite well two possible reasons for our fear of nakedness, both of which predate clothing and
are not unique to humans. The first is the vital phenomenon of refusal. Before mating, many animals play a game of chase, hard to get, a game of acceptance and then flight, forcing the pursuer to keep up and prove their determination before being chosen as a desirable mate.
So, when it comes to humans, we can think of clothing, paradoxically, as both a means of drawing attention to one’s body and simultaneously as a way to cover the body modestly, making us less available to every
and any potential mate, rendering breeding more selective. Ellis also mentions the fear of evoking disgust.
And it’s easy to see why individuals of a species, who avoid things
we consider disgusting, would survive better. Fecal material, waste, rubbish, other
bodily secretions can spread disease. For instance, animals whose poop likely contains
dangerous parasites avoid grazing around or hanging out around their waste. Habits like that lead to more sanitary conditions and a species more likely to survive. It’s a satisfying piece of
evidence as to why clothing once invented was so quickly used to cover private areas. In 2009, the BBC
investigated another influential factor – raising children. In species where the young are born
pretty much ready for life, it makes more sense to spend your time making babies, as opposed to sitting around raising them.
They don’t need it. Super precocial animals, like the megapode,
hatch with full flight feathers and can fly on their own within hours of hatching. Human babies, on the other hand,
are pretty darn altricial. We are born barely able to do much besides swallow
food put directly into our mouths. Newborns can’t walk or talk or
cook meals for themselves or drive themselves to work. It’s ridiculous. Why are human babies born so unready for life? Why is so much development time still
needed after human kids are born? Well, one explanation is that it’s
because we are so brilliant. Brain size is correlated with the body size.
Bigger bodies require bigger brains. The shrew has a smaller brain than a human,
but us humans have smaller brains than wales.
Of course, a bigger brain is not indicative of intelligence. For one thing, larger animals literally
just have more cells they need to worry about and control. What matters more when it comes to
intelligence is the proportion of brain size to body size. Compared to the size of our bodies, our brains are gigantic, they’re outliers, they’re off the charts. It’s crazy. And a consequence of this is
that in order to to have a brain, as big as ours, come out of a mother, as small as a human, we have to come out with brains
that aren’t fully formed. Brains and heads that aren’t as big as they will eventually
grow to be. And this is why human babies require so much care and so much
time to develop before their brains are ready for them to go off on their own. Under this theory, being naked and
mating all of the time might be a little bit less of a
priority for humans. Humans and societies that privilege modesty would have more time
and resources to put toward raising children and avoiding extra mates,
instead of just conceiving more kids, allowing kids to develop properly and
reproduce themselves. Clothing serves this purpose quite well. It conceals the privates and allows
more time to be spent on other things. Clothes, clothing may, in a way, actually be a consequence of our unique intelligence. So the next time you put on clothes, keep in mind that one of the reasons
you’re not running out into the world butt-naked is because you have such a big brain. No matter how dumb the clothing is that you’re putting on, it’s a reminder that we are smart. And as always, thanks for watching. Kevin, thank you for joining me.
Thanks for having me. I hear that there is an insect wing that can
naturally shred bacteria. That’s right. I talk all about that and other
mind-blowing things over on Vsauce2 in the new episode of of Mind Blow. Alright, well, let’s go over there
and watch it. In fact, you guys can come with us too.
Click this annotation or the link at the top of the description for Mind Blowing number 60.
I hope to see you there. Let’s go.