I've recently learned about The Neanderthal Theory, that explains autistic (and especially Asperger's) brain functioning as the effect of genetical similarity with Neanderthals.

The author gives a great number of examples of differences between modern and Neanderthal human, that in the same fact are strongly correlated to differences between neurotypical and autistic brain. Most of them greatly applies to me, which biases me towards accepting that theory:

  • Neanderthals have less developed social life, so their social skills were less developed too, so are the social skills of autistic people
  • most primates avoid eye contact as the sign of aggression, modern humans (neurotypicals) are the exception, both Neanderthals and autists are not
  • Neanderthals have bigger brains, and the proportion of brain size to body size was bigger, that could mean they were more intelligent, people with Asperger Syndrom are typically more intelligent than neurotypicals
  • by Neanderthals women were dominating and were taking sexual initiative, autistic people find it especially difficult to adapt to sexual model of neurotypicals, where males are sexually dominant, increased tendency to behaviours such as exhibitiosm can also be explained by neanderthal genes, since among Neanderthals such behaviours were actually accepted as normal and dominant
  • Neanderthals were meat-eaters (for me meat is the best diet)
  • Neanderthals prefer cold to heat (I like when it's cold and hate when it's hot)

This all makes sense, however, I'm aware, that it's quite easy to find a theory that will exactly match the known facts, so each theory must be proven by new facts and experiments. So I ask for any facts and scientific articles that would either support or reject that theory.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice summary and question, although the post would could be made more precise by bolding the specific question or request that is most important to you and summarizes your query. A pedantic note: in science you cannot 'prove' a theory, you can only build evidence to support it, or falsify it. $\endgroup$ Jun 27, 2012 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ Avoiding eye contact: who have proven that Neanderthals do it? When it comes to aggression: go into an elevator with strangers and see if neurotypicals are searching for the eye contact :). There are other thing more that speculative. $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2012 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ If you are really interested if you have Neanderthal DNA, there's a website called 23andme that does genetic testing. From what I understand, they test your DNA against a set of specific markers of disease and traits for both the maternal and paternal lineage. I remember reading that they test for Neanderthal DNA too. $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Nov 2, 2012 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ What is Neanderthal DNA anyway? We share 40% of our DNA with cabbage... would it make sense to call that Cabbage DNA then? And compare who has more or less of it, then correlate with personality traits? The concept seems terribly pseudoscientific to me. $\endgroup$
    – Ana
    Nov 2, 2012 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ Lol, cabbage DNA is hilarious. I'm just saying what I saw on their website. Maybe I should've said "genetic markers" rather than DNA. $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Nov 2, 2012 at 20:46

3 Answers 3


I don't know if it's a reasonable scientific theory, but here's some more info:

Autism: The Eusocial Hominid Hypothesis

ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) are hypothesized as one of many adaptive human cognitive variations that have been maintained in modern populations via multiple genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Introgression from "archaic" hominids (adapted for less demanding social environments) is conjectured as the source of initial intraspecific heterogeneity because strict inclusive fitness does not adequately model the evolution of distinct, copy-number sensitive phenotypes within a freely reproducing population.

Evidence is given of divergent encephalization and brain organization in the Neanderthal (including a ~1520 cc cranial capacity, larger than that of modern humans) to explain the origin of the autism subgroup characterized by abnormal brain growth.

Autism and immune dysfunction are frequently comorbid. This supports an admixture model in light of the recent discovery that MHC alleles (genes linked to immune function, mate selection, neuronal "pruning," etc.) found in most modern human populations come from "archaic" hominids.

Mitochondrial dysfunction, differential fetal androgen exposure, lung abnormalities, and hypomethylation/CNV due to hybridization are also presented as evidence.

A short video introduction


I don't think this is a serious scientific theory at all. The "theory" makes many assumptions about the supposed behaviour of Neanderthals that are not based on evidence, e.g. that they preferred cold to heat. Archaeological evidence indicates that they used fire. There is also a lack of evidence that their social skills were on par with those of autistic people. Here is a good blog article debunking the theory.


Sounds no more dubious than the pop-psychological view of Neandertals in general. One should be aware that the real picture of what Neandertals were, and how various modern human populations are related to them, has changed very rapidly in recent years. I doubt the claims you include about Neanderthal society.

We have no idea about to what degree a Neanderthal would have 'eyeballed' someone he was interacting with, whether within in a primitive society or a modern Western one.

Meat-eating and the avoidance of overly crowded areas are both just expressions of 'the good life'- arguably environmental rather than genetic.


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