The Biology of Skin Color


Penn State University anthropologist Dr. Nina Jablonski walks us through the evidence that the different shades of skin color among human populations arose as adaptations to the intensity of ultraviolet radiation in different parts of the world.

Short Film: 
(Duration: 18 min 58 sec)
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Tips From Teachers

“I use this film in my AP Biology class during my evolution unit, with an activity based on Tom Shelberg's article,'Teaching How to Answer "Why" Questions about Biology' in the January 2001 issue of American Biology Teacher. One of the questions I ask is 'Why does skin color tend to get lighter as people live farther away from the equator?' After some discussion, we then watch the film and the students realize that, not only has skin color been evolving, but so has our understanding of the process. Having a resource with relevance to both biology and society gives us a great start to the year.” -- Karen Lucci (Hopewell Central High School, NJ)

Curriculum Connections:

  • NGSS (2013) LS - 3
  • NGSS (2013) PS - 1
  • AP Biology (2012-2013) - 6
  • IB Biology (2016) - 2
NGSS (2013) LS
MS-LS1-1, MS-LS4-4 HS-LS3-1, HS-LS4-4
NGSS (2013) PS
AP Biology (2012-2013)
1A.1, 1.C.3, 3.A.1, 3.C.1, 4.A.2, 4.C.1
IB Biology (2016)
1.2, 5.2