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The architecture of human kin detection

Abstract

Evolved mechanisms for assessing genetic relatedness have been found in many species, but their existence in humans has been a matter of controversy. Here we report three converging lines of evidence, drawn from siblings, that support the hypothesis that kin detection mechanisms exist in humans. These operate by computing, for each familiar individual, a unitary regulatory variable (the kinship index) that corresponds to a pairwise estimate of genetic relatedness between self and other. The cues that the system uses were identified by quantitatively matching individual exposure to potential cues of relatedness to variation in three outputs relevant to the system’s evolved functions: sibling altruism, aversion to personally engaging in sibling incest, and moral opposition to third party sibling incest. As predicted, the kin detection system uses two distinct, ancestrally valid cues to compute relatedness: the familiar other’s perinatal association with the individual’s biological mother, and duration of sibling coresidence.

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Figure 1: Proposed model of the computational architecture of sibling detection.
Figure 2: Converging evidence indicates that the same computational variable, the kinship index, regulates disparate kin-relevant behaviours.
Figure 3: When MPA and coresidence duration cues are both available, the kin detection system defaults to MPA, the more reliable cue.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank P. Boyer, D. Fessler, S. Gangestad, P. Pocker, H. Waldow, G. Williams, D. Williams, UCSB Academic Senate and the providers of the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award (J.T.), and NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (L.C.).

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Correspondence to Debra Lieberman.

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This file contains Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figures S1-S8 with Legends, Supplementary Tables S1-S8 and additional references. (PDF 740 kb)

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Lieberman, D., Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L. The architecture of human kin detection. Nature 445, 727–731 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05510

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