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

Articolo di Paola Bressan


                                                      Abstract 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.

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