Reflections on the Human Family

David C. Geary, Drew H. Bailey and Jonathan Oxford

in The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Family Psychology

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780195396690
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Reflections on the Human Family

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Recreation of the socioecology in which the human family evolved can be guided by the paleontological record, comparisons of closely related species, and of course by the study of family formation across human cultures and the historical record. Following this approach, we propose that the socioecology of our australopithecine ancestors was similar to that found in modern gorillas (Gorilla gorilla); specifically, single-male harems with several females and their offspring. Such a social structure explains many features of the human family, including high levels of paternal investment, long-term male–female relationships, and concealed ovulation, that are not readily explained if our ancestors were more similar to modern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Moreover, the evolutionary changes needed to move from a gorilla-like social structure to the current human pattern are much less complex than the changes needed to move from a chimpanzee-like social structure. After describing the gorilla-like start point for the human family and evolutionary changes in our socioecology, we reflect on how this model relates to the different patterns of family formation found across and within human cultures and to our understanding of sibling relationships and grandparental investment.

Keywords: Human family; evolution; gorilla; grandmother hypothesis; siblings; australopithecines; socioecology

Article.  15530 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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