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Int J Primatol. 2009 Feb;30(1):199-210. Epub 2009 Jan 31.

Human Ability to Recognize Kin Visually Within Primates.


The assessment of relatedness is a key determinant in the evolution of social behavior in primates. Humans are able to detect kin visually in their own species using facial phenotypes, and facial resemblance in turn influences both prosocial behaviors and mating decisions. This suggests that cognitive abilities that allow facial kin detection in conspecifics have been favored in the species by kin selection. We investigated the extent to which humans are able to recognize kin visually by asking human judges to assess facial resemblance in 4 other primate species (common chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas, mandrills, and chacma baboons) on the basis of pictures of faces. Humans achieved facial interspecific kin recognition in all species except baboons. Facial resemblance is a reliable indicator of relatedness in at least chimpanzees, gorillas, and mandrills, and future work should explore if the primates themselves also share the ability to detect kin facially.

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