Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Westermarck Effect and Imprinting

  • Bowen Hou
  • Yan WangEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3618-1



A hypothetical psychological effect through which sexual attraction becomes less between people who live in close domestic proximity during the first few years of their lives.


Widely applied by evolutionary researchers to the explanation for human incest avoidance, Westermarck effect hypothesized that human tend to develop a strong sexual aversion to those they live closely with during infancy and early childhood. This hypothesis was first proposed by Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermarck in his book The History of Human Marriage (1891), described as a mechanism of inbreeding avoidance.

Westermarck effect is also called negative sexual imprinting, in contrast to positive sexual imprinting. Quite a few evidences have shown the rationality of the Westermarck effect.

The Evolutionary Function of Inbreeding Avoidance

It was hypothesized by Westermarck that...

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyFudan UniversityShanghaiChina

Section editors and affiliations

  • Menelaos Apostolou
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NicosiaNicosiaCyprus