Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

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

Benefits of Profound Kinship Connectedness (and Problems from a Lack Thereof) Through an Evolutionary Mismatch Lens

  • Jiaqing OEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1260-1



Being physically and emotionally close to one’s kin was instrumental for ensuring well-being and survival in the brutal ancestral context. Although the contemporary world is generally a much more secure and socially progressive place to live in, the lack of adequate support from one’s kin (which are relatively more evident in the present day as people become more independent from their kin due to greater perceived safety and opportunities) might nonetheless still lead to adverse consequences for the affected individual (as relatives are still principally more likely to aid him/her across a variety of life domains than non-kin).


Throughout the course of evolutionary history, Homo sapiens have generally lived in small closely knitted groups comprising predominantly of biological and affinal relatives (Hill et al. 2011). Within these groups, both biological and affinal relatives have a vested interest evolutionarily in the survival and reproductive success of the individual (the latter category of relatives being indirectly concerned as a result of a shared interest in the well-being of one’s descendant/s with whom they are genetically affiliated) (Hughes 1988). Maintaining a strong emotional connection with these kin and living one’s life in close proximity to them were predictably helpful in reducing the risk of injuries/death and in enhancing the chances that one would subsist long enough to propagate his/her genes into the future generations in the typically harsh, unpredictable prehistoric world (where food was infrequently available and threats from predators/rival tribes were prevalent); vice versa.

However, due to the tremendous transformations in terms of the physical and societal conditions in the recent era (e.g., the virtual elimination of all natural predators in numerous parts of the world and the perceived availability of a massive array of attainable resources in the globalized information age), many humans are now venturing away and residing independently from their kin (while not always maintaining a close connection to them) (e.g., Hank 2007). Such a relative lack of physical and emotional bonds with one’s kin are expected to result in a range of negative repercussions primarily because Homo sapiens are not yet evolutionarily prepared (in terms of cognitive and social capacities which will require countless generations to evolve) to function just as competently in a context that is largely devoid of kin (O 2018a).

Effects of (a Lack of) Close Connections with Kin in the Modern Environment

Despite massive changes in the social and physical spheres of the world since prehistory, humans in the present context are still believed to be more likely to help and support their kin across a vast range of life domains than non-kin as the welfare of the former is pivotal in the direct/indirect dissemination of one’s genes into succeeding progenies (Hughes 1988). Indeed, a variety of studies conducted on modern-day humans has corroborated such a premise. For instance, kin were reported to be more inclined to provide an individual with considerable amount of useful resources (e.g., lending him/her a massive sum of money) in times of need as compared to non-kin (including friends) in contemporary societies (e.g., Fitzgerald and Colarelli 2009). In addition, modern-day humans have revealed that they were generally more prepared to assist relatives, rather than those who were not related to them, in their search for a stable partner (Jonason et al. 2007); and research work has appeared to suggest that they were also more committed and nurturing when looking after their kin’s offspring as compared to those from non-kin (e.g., Sallnäs et al. 2004). Likewise, contemporary humans have also indicated a greater desire to save their kin (instead of non-kin) from a serious life-threatening situation (e.g., saving him/her from a building that was on fire) (Burnstein et al. 1994).

In light of such a diverse array of highly-valuable assistance that could potentially be rendered by one’s kin, it is imaginable that the absence of intimate physical and emotional bonds with them in the present day would lead to a host of negative outcomes for the individual. Because many individuals presently have kin who are located relatively far away, and that many may also not have a strong emotional connection to their relatives due to a lack of regular interactions over the years (e.g., Hank 2007) – which was a factor that has been empirically shown to be positively related to one’s propensity to help (Rachlin and Jones 2008), these individuals are expected to be more at risk of experiencing unresolved issues regarding insufficient resources (e.g., they might have encountered some forms of financial difficulties and are struggling to raise enough money to clear their large debts within a strict time frame) than their counterparts who are residing near to (and have maintained close links with) their kin. Analogously, these individuals are believed to be more likely to struggle to find a suitable long-term partner (and could hence remain single and childless as a result) or could conceivably find it harder to cope with balancing work and parenting duties if they have children, in the absence of the valuable assistance from their kin. Furthermore, these individuals are likewise postulated to be more likely to die without their kin around them if they are unfortunate enough to be involved in a life-threatening situation (e.g., being trapped in rising waters after a flood). In fact, it was predicted that these individuals are also more susceptible to be successful suiciders (if they are actually contemplating to kill themselves as a result of some severe emotional distress) due to their faraway kin not being nearby to intervene adequately in a swift manner (O 2018b).


On the grounds that kin were generally more inclined to be concerned about one’s welfare (as compared to non-kin) across human prehistory (even in the modern day), the evolutionarily novel relative absence of close physical and emotional contact with these individuals are believed to significantly affect one’s functioning (and possibly survival) and reproductive success in the current context.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyAberystwyth UniversityAberystwythUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Todd K. Shackelford
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOakland UniversityRochesterUSA