Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Deception fuels domestic bliss

21.11.2001


Happy families: heartwarming domestic scene or symphony of self interest?
© Photodisc


Evolution may make men ignorant and gullible.

Gentlemen: ignorance is bliss and gullibility is the best policy. A new mathematical analysis suggests that evolution favours babies who don’t much resemble their fathers, and males who believe their partner when she says a child looks just like him.

Anonymous-looking newborns make for uncertain fathers. But they also allow men to father children through undetected adultery, Paola Bressan of the University of Padova calculates1. The assertion - common across many cultures - that babies are the spit of their dad, is a way to get men to care for their offspring despite their uncertainty, she adds.



Mummy, daddy and baby might look like a heartwarming scene of family togetherness. But evolutionary biologists have no truck with such sentimental nonsense: to them, each of the trio is pursuing its own, often competing, interests.

The wild card is adultery. A baby comes into the world unsure of whether the male providing for it is its biological father. Being rumbled could mean neglect, or worse - infanticide. It’s easy to see how, in an evolutionary sense, babies might not want to resemble anyone in particular.

Whether fathers benefit from having recognizable babies is trickier. If dads pass on some genetic badge that allows them to identify their children, they could avoid raising another man’s child. But they will not be able to sneak any offspring into other families.

Bressan proposes that these two forces cancel each other out. Having anonymous babies stops fathers mistakenly rejecting their own children, which, in a slowly reproducing species such as humans, is probably a cost greater than that of raising someone else’s child. When the interests of babies and mothers are also taken into account, genes for anonymous babies should spread.

Human babies certainly seem to be masters of disguise. Neutral observers asked to match infants to their fathers do only slightly better than chance.

In fact, some of newborns’ features seem designed to enhance anonymity, says evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel, of the University of Reading. He points to the blue eyes and blond hair of many newborn Europeans, which result from genes being switched off at birth.

Could evolution mark babies with their father’s identity? Pagel thinks so: "There’s a lot of genetic variation to play with, and all sorts of things that are very easy to produce developmentally," he says.

Mother’s instinct

So everybody’s happy? Not quite: if all babies are anonymous and fathers are uncertain, males would invest less in kids whether they sired them or not.

A mother’s strategy to counteract this, says Bressan, could be to remark on the baby’s likeness to his father. Her mathematical model shows it can benefit a father to believe these assertions and increase his care for the child, as long as the chance that he is being deceived is slim enough.

Denson McLain, a behavioural ecologist at Georgia Southern University likes this idea. "The harm to a father of being sceptical towards is own children is greater than the cost of rearing someone else’s child," he says.

McLain has found that mothers remark more on their baby’s resemblance to their partner if he or his relatives are there to hear her than if he is absent.

Pagel, however, doubts that evolution would favour trusting males. The warm glow that dads get from hearing that junior has their nose might simply be "good old-fashioned vanity", he suggests.

References

  1. Bressan, P. Why babies look like their daddies: paternity uncertainty and the evolution of self-deception in evaluating family resemblance. Acta Ethologica, in the press (2001).

JOHN WHITFIELD | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011122/011122-9.html

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>