The architecture of human kin detection

Nature. 2007 Feb 15;445(7129):727-31. doi: 10.1038/nature05510.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Altruism
  • Animals
  • Artifacts
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cues*
  • Data Collection
  • Heredity / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Incest / psychology
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Living Donors / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological*
  • Mothers
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sibling Relations*
  • Siblings* / psychology
  • Time Factors