The Development and Function of Nepotism

Why Kinship Matters in Social Relationships
  • Warren G. Holmes
Part of the Handbook of Behavioral Neurobiology book series (HBNE, volume 13)


Each year since 1904, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission has presented a medal and financial award to civilians who voluntarily risked their own lives to save another person’s. The Hero Fund came about because, according to its founder, Andrew Carnegie, “I do not expect to stimulate or create heroism by this fund, knowing well that heroic action is impulsive; but I do believe that, if the hero is injured in his bold attempt to serve or save his fellows, he and those dependent upon him should not suffer pecuniarily” ([Carnegie, 2000]). One type of hero who is ineligible for an award is the hero who saves a member of his or her own immediate family. Why would the Commission exclude from the list of deserving heroes those who save a close genetic relative? I suggest that the reason is quite straightforward: we humans take for granted that our kin will come to our aid in times of need; self-sacrifice for a relative like a child, a sibling, or a niece is part of our “nature” and thus does not merit pecuniary reward ([Burnstein, Crandall, & Kitayama, 1994]). Still, why should this be so? One of my aims in this chapter is to explain the ubiquitous and deeply ingrained nature of nepotism that permeates human and nonhuman social relationships. My analysis may help provide a deeper biological understanding of why saving a friend or stranger might merit financial reward, whereas saving a close relative is “natural” and therefore would not


Social Preference Ground Squirrel Alarm Call Inclusive Fitness Social Play 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Warren G. Holmes
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor

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