Deacon's Dilemma: The Problem of Pair-bonding in Human Evolution

Robin Dunbar

in Social Brain, Distributed Mind

Published by British Academy

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780197264522
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734724 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Deacon's Dilemma: The Problem of Pair-bonding in Human Evolution

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Humans have an unusual mating system — nominally monogamous pair-bonds set within multimale/multifemale communities. In the context of large, dispersed communities, this inevitably places a significant stress on mating strategies, especially for males for whom paternity uncertainty is a real problem. This chapter discusses the nature of this bonding process in terms of the proximate mechanisms that make it possible, and then asks why such a phenomenon might have evolved. It suggests that the evidence for the importance of biparental care is weak, and a more likely explanation is that females attached themselves to males in order to reduce the risks of harassment and infanticide from other males. Finally, the discussion examines when pair-bonds of this kind might have evolved during the course of hominin evolution, and suggests that it might have been quite late.

Keywords: mating system; monogamy; biparental care; hominin evolution; infanticide

Chapter.  7745 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychology

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