acta ethologica

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 113–118 | Cite as

Why babies look like their daddies: paternity uncertainty and the evolution of self-deception in evaluating family resemblance

  • Paola Bressan
Original Article


It has been suggested that in a socially monogamous system where fathers invest in their mate's offspring but paternity is far from certain, it will be adaptive on the part of infants to conceal their father's identity; but the opposite claim has also been made that this is against the genetic interests of the fathers, and a high frequency of adulterine births will select instead for paternal resemblance. In this article, I present a simple theoretical model that suggests that neonatal anonymity benefits fathers, mothers, and children. Once anonymity becomes established, however, all babies start paying the cost of paternity uncertainty, that is, the reduction in paternal care due to fathers not knowing whether they have truly sired their mate's offspring. By diminishing the fitness of babies, such a cost bounces back as lowered fitness for parents as well. We should then expect the evolution of maternal strategies directed to decrease paternity uncertainty, in the form of instinctive and unsolicited comments on babies' resemblance to their putative fathers. In contradiction to the widespread belief that it would be in fathers' interest to be skeptical of these allegations, the model suggests that, under conditions of infant anonymity, fathers will actually promote their own fitness by believing their spouses.

Resemblance Confidence of paternity Parental investment Kin recognition Evolutionary psychology 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag and ISPA 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paola Bressan
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Psicologia Generale, Università di Padova, Via Venezia 8, 35131 Padova, Italy

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