Robert  Trivers



Knee symmetry predicts sprinting speed in Jamaicans--14 years later.

In a very striking finding the Jamaican Research Project has shown that

the degree of knee symmetry in 8 year old boys and girls positively predicts sprinting speed in 100 and 200 meter dashes 14 years later, at age 22. Presently we are preparing to measure knee and related symmetry in 75 elite Jamaican sprinters and a control sample math for age and sex. Read more here.

Knee (and ankle) symmetry predict the best of the best among Jamaican sprinters (for a short movie, click here)

Researchers measured the knees of 74 elite Jamaican sprinters (Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce - who is world champ from 60m to 200m and is participating in our sample with nearly perfectly symmetrical knees).

The athletes below are all members of the MVP, Track and Field club and hence members of the project.

The best sprinters in the world are Jamaicans. Why this should be so is a matter of some interest.

Recent work has isolated a key variable that predicts sprinting ability both within the elite sprinters themselves—and also predicts 14 years in advance sprinting ability in 8 year old children. This variable is knee symmetry, supported but not as strong by ankle symmetry

In a study of the entire MVP Track and Field Club athletes in Kingston, Jamaica, themselves comprising about 2/3rds of the elite sprinters on the island, Trivers and colleagues (2014) have shown that not only are sprinters, as expected, more symmetrical in their knees and ankles than average Jamaicans but more striking, the very best among the elite have the most symmetrical knees and ankles (PDF). This holds for both men and women for the full range of sprints from the 100m to the 800m but it is especially true for the 100m. 

In short, the very top Olympic and world champion sprinters are more likely to have highly symmetrical knees—while their feet seem entirely irrelevant.

This is unlikely to be due to greater training alone. Knee symmetry at 8 years of age predicts sprinting ability 14 years later at age 22 (PDF). Also degree of knee symmetry among the athletes does not increase with age as expected if training is playing a major role.

Why are Jamaicans the greatest?

No one knows how symmetrical the knees are of different peoples, except for Jamaicans, but nevertheless we have a strong hypothesis about the value of West African variability in genes relevant to running in the artificially created slave populations  as has been well documented by historical and genetic work, Jamaicans on their West African side are a hybrid of peoples running from the Ibo and Yoruba of Nigeria all the way up to the Wolof and Sera of Senegal, some 800 miles distant. This heterozygosity or genetic variability is associated with both symmetry and a series of other positive traits (Link). Future work testing these theories is being designed.

Jamaican sprinters (gold medalists Nickel Ashmeade, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Usain Bolt and Nesta Carter (who is part of our sample with highly symmetrical knees) pictured) excel at the sport because of their symmetrical knees. Research has found that runners with the most even knees have the quickest track times over 100 metres


Unlike other renowned scientists, Robert Trivers has spent time behind bars, drove a getaway car for Huey P. Newton, and founded an armed group in Jamaica to protect gay men from mob violence. Now, in the entertaining tradition of Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, Trivers tells us in his inimitable voice about the inimitable life behind the revolutionary science.

“Who would have guessed that arguably today’s most original thinker in evolutionary theory could possibly have led the extraordinary life Robert Trivers recounts in these pages. We are taken on a wild trip from inspired meditations on the biology of self deception, through a steamy Jamaican underworld, to Black Panthers in California, to frank appraisals of distinguished or over-rated scientists, the whole adding up to a disarmingly frank and utterly unique memoir of a rollercoaster of a life.”

—Richard Dawkins, bestselling author of The Selfish Gene

His most recent book (November 2015) is Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist (Amazon)

“This memoir is filled with sharp and hilarious observations about the living world, not least a certain species of hairless primate, not least a certain member of that species named Robert Trivers.”—Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature

“It would not be hyperbole to say that Robert Trivers is one of the most important evolutionary theorists since Charles Darwin. A lust for life doesn’t begin to sum up

a career devoted to truth, courage, and the audacity to think what no one else has thought. If that were not enough, Trivers is witty, clever, and compassionate. This book is destined to become a classic in scientific autobiography.”

—Michael Shermer, Editor Skeptic, columnist Scientific American


Biosocial Research, 2015. 225 pps. $12.99

ISBN 9781938972126

Available as a kindle edition. ASIN: B017L6EHJ0


The Folly of Fools: the Logic of Deceit and Self-deception in Human Life; The Anatomy of a Fraud: Symmetry and Dance; Genes in Conflict: the Biology of Selfish Genetic Elements; Natural Selection and Social Theory: Selected Papers of Robert Trivers; Social Evolution.


Trivers’ Persuit

Psychology Today

The function of this webpage is to draw attention to my recent books and to provide easy access to all my work. Thus, under Publications you can find links to pdf’s of all my scientific papers and two of my books. Under Books are links to buying copies of my books. There are many links to articles about me or my work, including links to foreign language pieces. There are also links to the sordid way in which my own University chose to act against me.

I have been an evolutionary biologist since the fall of 1965 when I first learned that natural selection is the key to understanding life and that it favors traits that give individuals an advantage (in producing surviving offspring). Spring of 1966 I learned Hamilton’s kinship theory, which extended one’s self-interest to include not only one’s own offspring but also
those of relatives, each devalued by the appropriate degree of relatedness.

I was eager to contribute to building social theory based on natural selection, because a scientific system of social theory must, by logic be based on natural selection, and getting the foundations correct would have important implications for understanding our own psyches and social systems. A general system of logic that applies to all creatures also vastly extends the range of relevant evidence.

I then published a series of papers on social topics: reciprocal altruism (1971), parental investment and sexual selection (1972), the sex ratio (1973), parent-offspring conflict (1974), kinship and sex ratio in the

social insects (1976), summarized in my book Social Evolution (1985).  All of these papers can be downloaded under Publications and links to buying books are found under Books. One book reprinting these papers and how they were written was entitled Natural Selection and Social Theory: Selected Papers of Robert Trivers (2002) and can be downloaded under Publications.

I devoted 1990 to 2005 to mastering genetics, in particular Selfish Genetic Elements, which typically are harmful to the organism as a whole but spread through within-individual genetic conflict. They infect all known organisms, including ourselves, come in a zoo of forms but can be understood by a logic of genetic conflict continuous with the kind that operates at the individual level (with no internal conflict). The entire subject is reviewed in my book with Austin Burt (2006) and a pdf of it can be downloaded under Publications.

Finally, I have recently attempted to master the scientific literature on self-deception and to sketch out some of the many applications of the resulting view. Links to this book are found here on the front page. Links to earlier papers on the subject can be found in the ‘Publications’.