Human ability to detect kinship in strangers' faces: effects of the degree of relatedness

Gwenaël Kaminski, Slimane Dridi, Christian Graff, Edouard Gentaz

Abstract

The resemblance between human faces has been shown to be a possible cue in recognizing the relatedness between parents and children, and more recently, between siblings. However, the general inclusive fitness theory proposes that kin-selective behaviours are also relevant to more distant relatives, which requires the detection of larger kinship bonds. We conducted an experiment to explore the use of facial clues by ‘strangers’, i.e. evaluators from a different family, to associate humans of varying degrees of relatedness. We hypothesized that the visual capacity to detect relatedness should be weaker with lower degrees of relatedness. We showed that human adults are capable of (although not very efficient at) assessing the relatedness of unrelated individuals from photographs and that visible facial cues vary according to the degree of relatedness. This sensitivity exists even for kin pair members that are more than a generation apart and have never lived together. Collectively, our findings are in agreement with emerging knowledge on the role played by facial resemblance as a kinship cue. But we have progressed further to show how the capacity to distinguish between related and non-related pairs applies to situations relevant to indirect fitness.

Footnotes

    • Received April 21, 2009.
    • Accepted May 26, 2009.
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