Between Conflict and Cooperation: New Horizons in the Evolutionary Science of the Human Family

Gregory Gorelik, Todd K. Shackelford and Catherine A. Salmon

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

Between Conflict and Cooperation: New Horizons in the Evolutionary Science of the Human Family

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  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology



Familial relationships cannot be properly understood outside of an evolutionary framework. Pseudoscientific and traditional modes of thought have steered us away from an accurate account of ourselves and our kin. Recent theoretical and empirical advancements in the evolutionary sciences, such as the theories of inclusive fitness, parental investment, and parent–offspring conflict, have aided our understanding of familial conflict and cooperation. We suggest that a gene’s-eye perspective of human families can likewise illuminate much of human psychology and behavior by contrasting individual interests with genetic interests. Furthermore, genetic imprinting and extended phenotypic action-at-a-distance have unveiled the extent to which coevolutionary arms races and manipulation may lie at the heart of familial interactions and psychological disorders. We posit that human cultural trends and morals can ultimately be grounded on an evolutionary foundation: Not only do human laws and institutions reflect group-level manifestations of gene-level cooperative adaptations, they may also reflect gene-level manipulative adaptations. An awareness of evolutionary dynamics can advance human well-being and unveil the hidden mechanisms beneath all human and nonhuman relationships.

Keywords: Family relationships; kin selection; inclusive fitness; evolutionary psychology; extended phenotype; cooperation; conflict; adaptation

Article.  9040 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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