Evolution and human behavior

Volume 30, Issue 3, Pages 153-160 (May 2009)

Debra Lieberman

Rethinking the Taiwanese minor marriage data: evidence the mind uses multiple kinship cues to regulate inbreeding avoidance

Received 19 May 2008; accepted 24 November 2008. published online 14 January 2009.


Natural experiments such as the Israeli Kibbutzim and Taiwanese minor marriages provide unique opportunities for testing the effects of childhood association on adult sexual attraction. Within these populations, early childhood association leads to the development of a sexual aversion, an effect first proposed by Edward Westermarck. However, recent analysis of Taiwanese minor marriages indicates that only the age at first association (an inverse index of childhood association) of the younger partner predicts marital fertility rates; the age at first association of the older partner does not. Although considered a puzzle, a recent model of human inbreeding avoidance can explain this pattern. This model suggests that the mind uses at least two kinship cues to regulate the development of sibling sexual aversions: (i) childhood coresidence duration, a default cue used mainly by younger siblings in detecting probable older siblings, and (ii) exposure to one's mother caring for a newborn, a cue only available to older siblings and reliable regardless of coresidence duration and, hence, age at first association. Thus, one reason that the age at first association of only the younger partner in minor marriages predicts fertility is that coresidence duration serves as a cue to siblingship mainly for younger partners; older partners use a different kinship cue not influenced by durations of association. When compared to data from psychological investigations of the effects of coresidence duration on opposition to sibling incest, the minor marriage data reveal an identical pattern providing converging lines of evidence that multiple kinship cues mediate sibling detection and inbreeding avoidance in humans.

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