Skip to main content

Elevated Kin-Directed Altruism Emerges in Childhood and Is Linked to Feminine Gender Expression in Samoan Fa’afafine: A Retrospective Study

Abstract

Androphilia refers to sexual attraction toward adult males, whereas gynephilia refers to sexual attraction toward adult females. The kin selection hypothesis posits that androphilic males help kin increase their reproductive output via kin-directed altruism, thus offsetting their own lowered reproduction and contributing to the fitness of genes underpinning male androphilia. Support for this hypothesis has been garnered in several Samoan studies showing that feminine androphilic males (known locally as fa’afafine) report elevated willingness to invest in nieces and nephews in adulthood. Also, recalled childhood kin attachment and concern for kin’s well-being are elevated among Canadian androphilic males (i.e., gay men) and positively associated with childhood feminine gender expression. This study examined whether these childhood patterns were cross-culturally consistent and associated with adulthood kin-directed altruism in a Samoan sample. Samoan gynephilic men, androphilic women, and fa’afafine (N = 470) completed measures of recalled childhood kin attachment and concern for the well-being of kin, recalled childhood gender expression, and willingness in adulthood to invest in nieces and nephews. Fa’afafine recalled elevated anxiety due to separation from kin relative to men and elevated concern for kin’s well-being relative to both men and women. Within groups, these characteristics were most robustly associated with childhood feminine gender expression and willingness in adulthood to invest in nieces and nephews among fa’afafine. These findings are consistent with the kin selection hypothesis and the adaptive feminine phenotype model, which proposes that a disposition toward elevated kin-directed altruism among androphilic males is associated with feminine gender expression.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Camperio Ciani et al. (2016) also reported no significant difference in kin-directed altruism between a “third” gender group of same-sex attracted natal males and opposite-sex attracted men in a sample of Urak-Lawoi from Ko Lipeh island, Thailand; however, this study contained several methodological limitations, including weak statistical power due to small sample sizes of 19 individuals per group, that render the implications for the kin selection hypothesis equivocal (for further discussion, see Vasey, VanderLaan, Hames, & Jaidee, 2016).

  2. 2.

    Gynephilia refers to sexual attraction and arousal to adult females.

  3. 3.

    The original Male-Typical Behavior subscale included five items, but scale reliability analysis indicated that the item “How often do you do boy’s chores?” substantially reduced inter-item reliability in this sample.

References

  1. Abild, M. L., VanderLaan, D. P., & Vasey, P. L. (2014). Does geographic proximity influence the expression of avuncular tendencies in Canadian androphilic males? Journal of Cognition and Culture, 14, 41–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Alanko, K., Santtila, P., Harlaar, N., Witting, K, Varjonen, M, Jern, P., … Sandnabba, N. K. (2010). Common genetic effects of gender atypical behavior in childhood and sexual orientation in adulthood: A study of Finnish twins. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 81–92.

  3. Bailey, J. M. (2003). The man who would be queen: The science of gender-bending and transsexualism. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bailey, J. M., Dunne, M. P., & Martin, N. G. (2000). Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlated in an Australian twin sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 524–536.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Bailey, J. M., Pillard, R. C., Dawood, K., Miller, M. B., Farrer, L. A., Trivedi, S., … Murphy, R. L. (1999). A family history study of male sexual orientation using three independent samples. Behavior Genetics, 29, 79–86.

  6. Bailey, J. M., & Zucker, K. J. (1995). Childhood sex-typed behavior and sexual orientation: A conceptual analysis and quantitative review. Developmental Psychology, 31, 43–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bartlett, N. H., & Vasey, P. L. (2006). A retrospective study of childhood gender atypical behavior in Samoan fa’afafine. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 659–666.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Besharat, M. A., Karimi, S., & Saadati, M. (2016). A comparison of childhood gender nonconformity and fertility rate in a lineage in male homosexuals and heterosexuals. Contemporary Psychology, 10, 3–14.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bobrow, B., & Bailey, J. M. (2001). Is male homosexuality maintained via kin selection? Evolution and Human Behavior, 22, 361–368.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Camperio Ciani, A., Battaglia, U., & Liotta, M. (2016). Societal norms rather than sexual orientation influence kin altruism and avuncularity in Tribal Urak-Lawoi, Italian, and Spanish adult males. Journal of Sex Research, 53, 137–148.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Cardoso, F. L. (2005). Cultural universals and differences in male homosexuality: The case of a Brazilian fishing village. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 103–109.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Daly, M., Salmon, C., & Wilson, M. (1997). Kinship: The conceptual hole in psychological studies of social cognition and close relationships. In J. A. Simpson & D. Kenrick (Eds.), Evolutionary social psychology (pp. 265–296). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Forrester, D. L., VanderLaan, D. P., Parker, J. L., & Vasey, P. L. (2011). Male sexual orientation and avuncularity in Canada: Implications for the kin selection hypothesis. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 11, 339–352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gómez, F. R., Semenyna, S. W., Court, L., & Vasey, P. L. (in press). Recalled separation anxiety in childhood in Istmo Zapotec men, women, and muxes. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

  15. Green, R. (1987). The “sissy boy syndrome” and the development of homosexuality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Hamilton, W. D. (1963). The evolution of altruistic behavior. American Naturalist, 97, 354–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Henry, B., Moffit, T. E., Caspi, A., Langley, J., & Silva, P. A. (1994). On the “remembrance of things past”: A longitudinal evaluation of the retrospective method. Psychological Assessment, 6, 92–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hu, S., Pattatucci, A. M. L., Patterson, C., Li, L., Fulker, D. W., Cherny, S. S., … Hamer, D. H. (1995). Linkage between sexual orientation and chromosome Xq28 in males but not females. Nature Genetics, 11, 248–256.

  19. Johnson, L. L., Bradley, S. J., Birkenfeld-Adams, A. S., Radzins Kuksis, M. A., Maing, D. M., Mitchell, J. N., & Zucker, K. J. (2004). A parent-report Gender Identity Questionnaire for Children. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 105–116.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Kelker, N. L., & Bruhns, K. O. (2009). Faking the ancient Andes. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Kendler, K. S., Thornton, L. M., Gilman, S. E., & Kessler, R. C. (2000). Sexual orientation in a U.S. national sample of twin and nontwin sibling pairs. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 1843–1846.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. King, M., Green, J., Osborn, D. P. J., Arkell, J., Hetherton, J., & Pereira, E. (2005). Family size in white gay and heterosexual men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 117–122.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: Saunders.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Långström, N., Rahman, Q., Carlström, E., & Lichtenstein, P. (2008). Genetic and environmental effects of same-sex sexual behavior: A population study of twins in Sweden. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 75–80.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Lippa, R. A. (2005). Sexual orientation and personality. Annual Review of Sex Research, 16, 119–153.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Maughan, B., & Rutter, M. (1997). Retrospective reporting of childhood adversity: Issues in assessing long-term recall. Journal of Personality Disorders, 11, 19–33.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Petterson, L. J., Wrightson, C. L., & Vasey, P. L. (2016). Recalled gendered behavior in childhood: A comparison of androphilic men, gynephilic men, and androphilic women in Japan. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0781-8.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Rahman, Q., & Hull, M. S. (2005). An empirical test of the kin selection hypothesis for male homosexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 461–467.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Rieger, G., Linsenmeier, J. A., Gygax, L., & Bailey, J. M. (2008). Sexual orientation and childhood gender nonconformity: Evidence from home videos. Developmental Psychology, 44, 46–48.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Samaco, R. C., Mandel-Brehm, C., McGraw, C. M., Shaw, C. A., McGill, B. E., & Zoghbi, H. Y. (2012). Crh and Oprm1 mediate anxiety-related behavior and social approach in a mouse model of MECP2 duplication syndrome. Nature Genetics, 44, 206–211.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. Sanders, A. R., Martin, E. R., Beecham, G. W., Guo, S., Dawood, K., Rieger, G., … Bailey, J. M. (2015). Genome-wide scan demonstrates significant linkage for male sexual orientation. Psychological Medicine, 45, 1379–1388.

  32. Schmidt, J. (2003). Paradise lost? Social change and fa’afafine in Samoa. Current Sociology, 51, 417–432.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Schwartz, G., Kim, R. M., Kolundzija, A. B., Rieger, G., & Sanders, A. R. (2010). Biodemographic and physical correlates of sexual orientation in men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 93–109.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Sear, R., & Mace, R. (2008). Who keeps children alive? A review of the effects of kin on child survival. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29, 1–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Semenyna, S. W., Petterson, L. J., VanderLaan, D. P. & Vasey, P. L. (2016). Familial patterning and prevalence of male androphilia in Samoa. Journal of Sex Research. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1218416.

  36. Semenyna, S. W., & Vasey, P. L. (2016). Bullying, physical aggression, gender atypicality, and sexual orientation in Samoan males. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0676-0.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Singh, D. (2012). A follow-up study of boys with gender identity disorder. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Toronto.

  38. Steensma, T. D., van der Ende, J., Verhulst, F. C., & Cohen-Kettenis, P. T. (2013). Gender variance in childhood and sexual orientation in adulthood: A prospective study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10, 2723–2733.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. VanderLaan, D. P., Forrester, D. L., Petterson, L. J., & Vasey, P. L. (2013a). The prevalence of fa’afafine relatives among Samoan gynephilic men and fa’afafine. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 353–359.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. VanderLaan, D. P., Gothreau, L. M., Bartlett, N. H., & Vasey, P. L. (2011a). Separation anxiety in feminine boys: Pathological or prosocial? Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health, 15, 30–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. VanderLaan, D. P., Gothreau, L. M., Bartlett, N. H., & Vasey, P. L. (2011b). Recalled separation anxiety and gender atypicality in childhood: A study of Canadian heterosexual and homosexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1233–1240.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. VanderLaan, D. P., Petterson, L. J., Mallard, R. W., & Vasey, P. L. (2015a). (Trans)gender role expectations and child care in Samoa. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 710–720.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. VanderLaan, D. P., Petterson, L. J., & Vasey, P. L. (2015b). Elevated childhood separation anxiety: An early developmental expression of heightened concern for kin in homosexual men? Personality and Individual Differences, 81, 188–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. VanderLaan, D. P., Petterson, L. J., & Vasey, P. L. (2016). Femininity and kin-directed altruism in androphilic men: A test of an evolutionary developmental model. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 619–633.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. VanderLaan, D. P., Ren, Z., & Vasey, P. L. (2013b). Male androphilia in the ancestral environment: An ethnological analysis. Human Nature, 24, 375–401.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. VanderLaan, D. P., & Vasey, P. L. (2012). Relationship status and elevated avuncularity in Samoan fa’afafine. Personal Relationships, 19, 326–339.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. VanderLaan, D. P., & Vasey, P. L. (2014). Evidence of cognitive biases for maximizing indirect fitness in Samoan fa’afafine. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1009–1022.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. VanderLaan, D. P., Vokey, J. R., & Vasey, P. L. (2013c). Is transgendered male androphilia familial in non-Western populations? The case of a Samoan village. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 361–370.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. Vasey, P. L., & Bartlett, N. H. (2007). What can the Samoan fa’afafine teach us about the Western concept of gender identity disorder in childhood? Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 50, 481–490.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Vasey, P. L., Parker, J. L., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2014). Comparative reproductive output of androphilic and gynephilic males in Samoa. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 363–367.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. Vasey, P. L., Pocock, D. S., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2007). Kin selection and male androphilia in Samoan fa’afafine. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28, 159–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Vasey, P. L., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2009). Materteral and avuncular tendencies in Samoa a comparative study of women, men, and fa’afafine. Human Nature, 20, 269–281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Vasey, P. L., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2010a). Avuncular tendencies in Samoan fa’afafine and the evolution of male androphilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 821–830.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. Vasey, P. L., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2010b). An adaptive cognitive dissociation between willingness to help kin and non-kin in Samoan fa’afafine. Psychological Science, 21, 292–297.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Vasey, P. L., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2010c). Monetary exchanges with nieces and nephews: A comparison of Samoan men, women, and fa’afafine. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 371–380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Vasey, P. L., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2012). Sexual orientation in men and avuncularity in Japan: Implications for the kin selection hypothesis. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 209–215.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. Vasey, P. L., VanderLaan, D. P., Gothreau, L. M., & Bartlett, N. H. (2011). Traits of separation anxiety in childhood: A retrospective study of Samoan men, women, and fa’afafine. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 511–517.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. Vasey, P. L., VanderLaan, D. P., Hames, R., & Jaidee, A. (2016). A problematic test of the kin selection hypothesis among the Urak-Lawoi of Ko Lipe, Thailand: Commentary on Camperio Ciani, Battaglia, and Liotta (2015). Journal of Sex Research, 53, 149–152.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. Whitam, F. L., & Zent, M. (1984). A cross-cultural assessment of early cross-gender behavior and familial factors in male homosexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 13, 427–439.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  60. Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology: The new synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Zheng, L., Lippa, R. A., & Zheng, Y. (2011). Sex and sexual orientation differences in personality in China. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 533–541.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. Zietsch, B. P., Verweij, K. J. H., Bailey, J. M., Wright, M. J., & Martin, N. G. (2011). Sexual orientation and psychiatric vulnerability: A twin study of neuroticism and psychoticism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 133–142.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  63. Zucker, K. J., Bradley, S. J., & Lowry Sullivan, C. B. (1996). Traits of separation anxiety in boys with gender identity disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 791–798.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We thank Paul Ah Kuoi, Resitara Apa, Gardenia Elisaia, Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago Elisala, Vaosa Epa, Sarah Faletoese Su’a, Vester Fido Collins, Liulauulu Faaleolea Ah Fook, Gaualofa Matalavea, Avau Memea, Nella Tavita-Levy, Palanitina Toelupe, the Samoan Ministry of Health, the Samoan Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, and the Government of Samoa. Special thanks to Alatina Ioelu and Trisha Tuiloma without whom this work would not be possible. DPV was supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Sexual Medicine Society of North America Postdoctoral Fellowships as well as the University of Toronto Mississauga. LJP was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada Undergraduate Research Award, a Master’s scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, and a Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group grant. PLV was funded by the University of Lethbridge, a SSHRC of Canada Insight Grant, and an Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Sustainability Fund Grant.

Funding

The first author was supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Sexual Medicine Society of North America Postdoctoral Fellowships. The second author was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada Undergraduate Research Award and a Master’s scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. The last author was funded by a SSHRC of Canada Insight Grant, and an Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Sustainability Fund Grant.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Doug P. VanderLaan.

Ethics declarations

Conflicts of interest

All authors declare no conflict of interest related to this submission.

Human and Animal Rights

All procedures in this study were approved by the Institutional Research Ethics Board at the last author’s institution. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Appendix: Expanded Separation Anxiety Scale-Revised (SAS-R) Sibling Subscalea

Appendix: Expanded Separation Anxiety Scale-Revised (SAS-R) Sibling Subscalea

Worry subscale

  1. 1.

    I worried that my siblings and other kids were not getting along with one another

  2. 2.

    It upset me when my siblings were not getting along with my parents

  3. 3.

    I wanted my siblings around so I could take care of them or help them

  4. 4.

    When my siblings were away from me, I worried they would be in an accident or hurt in some way

  5. 5.

    When my siblings got sick, I wanted to stay with them and not go to school

Separation subscale

  1. 1.

    I worried a lot about getting separated from my siblings (getting kidnaped, lost)

  2. 2.

    I did not want to sleep without my siblings being close to me

  3. 3.

    I had nightmares about being separated from my siblings

  4. 4.

    If I knew that I would have to be away from my siblings, I would get physically ill (headache, stomach ache)

  5. 5.

    I felt unsafe if my siblings were not with me

aScale: 1 = Not true; 2 = Rarely true; 3 = Sometimes true; 4 = Often true; 5 = Very true; 6 = Decline to answer (When “decline to answer” was endorsed by participants, it was treated as a missing value)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

VanderLaan, D.P., Petterson, L.J. & Vasey, P.L. Elevated Kin-Directed Altruism Emerges in Childhood and Is Linked to Feminine Gender Expression in Samoan Fa’afafine: A Retrospective Study. Arch Sex Behav 46, 95–108 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0884-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Sexual orientation
  • Evolution
  • Kin selection hypothesis
  • Fa’afafine
  • Samoa
  • Separation anxiety