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Humans and Harems? Review of Out of Eden: The surprising consequences of polygamy by David Barash


In “Out of Eden” (Barash in Out of Eden, Oxford University Press, New York, 2016) David Barash argues that humans are naturally polygamous, in that they have innate polygamous preferences. In particular, Barash argues that human males have preferences and other psychological states designed to support aggressive polygynous sexual competition, and that the resulting behavior has driven the selection of various other psychological and behavioral traits in humans. This is controversial, since the prevailing view of the human mating system in our recent evolutionary history was that it was choice-based and only mildly polygynous. In this review I evaluate Barash’s arguments and conclude that he has not made his case for the stronger view.

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    There is a partial exception in the form of “sneaker” based systems where less showy males mate with females when the “harem keeping” male is absent. However while these males in such systems are sometimes getting sex based on female choice they are decidedly not engaging in choice based “showing off”.


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Correspondence to Catherine Driscoll.

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Driscoll, C. Humans and Harems? Review of Out of Eden: The surprising consequences of polygamy by David Barash. Biol Philos 32, 615–625 (2017).

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  • Human evolution
  • Sociobiology
  • Polygamy
  • David Barash