Westermarck effect

The Westermarck effect, also known as reverse sexual imprinting, is a psychological hypothesis that people tend not to be attracted to peers with whom they lived like siblings before age six. This hypothesis was first proposed by Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermarck in his book The History of Human Marriage (1891) as one explanation for the incest taboo.

The child rearing practices of the kibbutz system is sometimes cited as an example of the Westermarck effect. Seen here are a group of children in Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, circa 1935–40.

Research since WestermarckEdit

The Westermarck effect has achieved some empirical support.[1] Proponents point to evidence from Israeli kibbutz system, from the Chinese Shim-pua marriage customs, and from biologically-related families.

In the case of the Israeli kibbutzim (collective farms), children were reared somewhat communally in peer groups, based on age, not biological relations. A study of the marriage patterns of these children later in life revealed that out of the nearly 3,000 marriages that occurred across the kibbutz system, only 14 were between children from the same peer group. Of those 14, none had been reared together during the first six years of life. This result suggests that the Westermarck effect operates during the period from birth to the age of six.[2]

In Shim-pua marriages, a girl would be adopted into a family as the future wife of a son, often an infant at that time. These marriages often failed, as would be expected according to the Westermarck hypothesis.[3]

Studies show that cousin-marriage in Lebanon has a lower success rate if the cousins were raised in sibling-like conditions, first-cousin unions being more successful in Pakistan if there was a substantial age difference, as well as reduced marital appeal for cousins who grew up sleeping in the same room in Morocco. Evidence also indicates that siblings separated for extended periods of time since childhood were more likely to report having engaged in sexual activity with one another.[4]

CriticismEdit

Eran Shor and Dalit Simchai revisited the kibbutzim results and found sexual attraction where it hadn't been acted on. They conclude that any innate aversion needs to be backed up by social pressures and norms.[5]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo: The State of Knowledge at the Turn of the Century, Arthur P. Wolf and William H. Durham (Editors), Stanford University Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0804751414. Introduction
  2. ^ Shepher, Joseph (1983). Incest: A Biosocial View. Studies in anthropology. New York: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-639460-1. LCCN 81006552.
  3. ^ Wilson, Margo; Daly, Martin (1992). "Chapter 7: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chattel". In Barkow, J.H.; Cosmides, L.; Tooby, J. (eds.). The Adapted Mind. Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-510107-2. p. 190
  4. ^ Scheidel, Walter. "Evolutionary psychology and the historian." The American Historical Review 119, no. 5 (2014): 1563-1575.
  5. ^ Shor, Eran; Simchai, Dalit (2009). "Incest Avoidance, the Incest Taboo, and Social Cohesion: Revisiting Westermarck and the Case of the Israeli Kibbutzim". American Journal of Sociology. 114 (6): 1803–1842. doi:10.1086/597178. PMID 19852254.

Further readingEdit

  • Paul, Robert A. (1988). "Psychoanalysis and the Propinquity Theory of Incest Avoidance". The Journal of Psychohistory 3 (Vol. 15), 255–261.
  • Spain, David H. (1987). "The Westermarck–Freud Incest-Theory Debate: An Evaluation and Reformation". Current Anthropology 5 (Vol. 28), 623–635, 643–645.
  • Westermarck, Edvard A. (1921). The history of human marriage, 5th ed. London: Macmillan.
  • Lieberman, D., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2007). "The architecture of human kin detection", Nature, 445, 727–731.