Altruistic Behavior among Twins : Willingness to Fight and Self-Sacrifice for Their Closest Relatives

Hum Nat. 2018 Mar;29(1):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s12110-017-9304-0.


According to kin selection theory, indirect reproductive advantages may induce individuals to care for others with whom they share genes by common descent, and the amount of care, including self-sacrifice, will increase with the proportion of genes shared. Twins represent a natural situation in which this hypothesis can be tested. Twin pairs experience the same early environment because they were born and raised at the same time and in the same family but their genetic relatedness differs depending on zygosity. We compared the degree of willingness to fight and sacrifice for the co-twin among monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) pairs in a sample of 1443 same-sex and opposite-sex twins. We also analyzed the effect of the subject's gender and that of the co-twin on those altruistic behaviors. Results partly supported the postulated explanation. MZ twins (who share nearly their entire genome) were significantly more likely than DZ twins (who on average share half of their segregating genes) to self-sacrifice for their co-twins, but zygosity did not affect willingness to fight for him/her. The genders of the subject and of the co-twin, not genetic relatedness, were the best predictors of aggressive altruistic intentions.

Keywords: Altruism; Genetic relatedness; Kin selection theory; Self-sacrifice; Twins.

Publication types

  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Altruism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sibling Relations*
  • Twins, Dizygotic / psychology*
  • Twins, Monozygotic / psychology*