How Kin Selection Works

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Author's Note: How Kin Selection Works

When talking about the "rules" of natural selection and evolution, we tend to hold ourselves separate from the rest of nature. Altruism in animals might be blindly motivated by group preservation, but self-sacrificing behavior in humans is different, right? It's moral, ethical, noble or just plain nice. But what if we're more driven by our genes than we'd like to think? What if we only act kind and selfless in order to raise our attractiveness as a mate? Evolutionary biologists have a name for that, too — reciprocal selection. I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine. I'll protect your nest this year, if you protect mine next year. There's no doubt that much of our behavior is an expression of our deep biological urges to survive and reproduce, but I like to think that we also have the capacity to sacrifice and serve without thought of reward, other than it feels really good.

Related Articles


  • Bourke, Andrew F. G. "Kin Selection." Oxford Bibliographies. March 39, 2015 (April 26, 2015)
  • Montgomery, Stephen. "Natural Selection." Christ's College, Cambridge. 2009 (April 26, 2015)
  • Neyfakh, Leon. "Where does good come from?" The Boston Globe. April 17, 2011 (April 26, 2015)
  • Okasha, Samir. "Biological Altruism." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. June 3, 2003 (April 26, 2015)
  • Rausher, Mark D. "Principles of Evolution, Lectures 11 & 12: Altruism and Kin Selection." Duke University. (April 26, 2015)

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