Westermarck, Freud, and the incest taboo: Does familial resemblance activate sexual attraction? attraction?

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Westermarck, Freud, and the incest taboo: Does familial resemblance activate sexual attraction? attraction?
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    http://psp.sagepub.com/   BulletinPersonality and Social Psychology  http://psp.sagepub.com/content/36/9/1202The online version of this article can be foundat:DOI: 10.1177/01461672103771802010 36: 1202 srcinally published online 20 July 2010 Pers Soc Psychol Bull  R. Chris Fraley and Michael J. Marks Westermarck, Freud, and the Incest Taboo: Does Familial Resemblance Activate Sexual Attraction? Published by:  http://www.sagepublications.com On behalf of:  Society for Personality and Social Psychology can be found at: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin  Additional services and information for   http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts:    http://psp.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions:    http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints:    http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions:   http://psp.sagepub.com/content/36/9/1202.refs.html Citations:    at UNIV OF ILLINOIS URBANA on September 15, 2010psp.sagepub.comDownloaded from    Article Personality and SocialPsychology Bulletin36(9) 1202 –1212© 2010 by the Society for Personality andSocial Psychology, IncReprints and permission:sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/0146167210377180http://pspb.sagepub.com  Westermarck, Freud, and the IncestTaboo: Does Familial ResemblanceActivate Sexual Attraction? R. Chris Fraley 1 and Michael J. Marks 2 Abstract Evolutionary psychological theories assume that sexual aversions toward kin are triggered by a nonconscious mechanism thatestimates the genetic relatedness between self and other. This article presents an alternative perspective that assumes thatincest avoidance arises from consciously acknowledged taboos and that when awareness of the relationship between self andother is bypassed, people find individuals who resemble their kin more sexually appealing. Three experiments demonstratethat people find others more sexually attractive if they have just been subliminally exposed to an image of their opposite-sex parent (Experiment 1) or if the face being rated is a composite image based on the self (Experiment 2). This finding isreversed when people are aware of the implied genetic relationship (Experiment 3). These findings have implications for acentury-old debate between E. Westermarck and S. Freud, as well as contemporary research on evolution, mate choice, andsexual imprinting. Keywords attraction, evolution, incest avoidance, mere exposure, Freud, sexual imprinting Received November 6, 2009; revision accepted March 23, 2010 In 1891, Edward Westermarck, a Finnish sociologist andanthropologist, published The History of Human Marriage , a1,544-page thesis on the nature of intimate relationships(Westermarck, 1891/1921). One of Westermarck’s goalswas to explain why virtually every human society has social prohibitions against sexual relations among kin. Accordingto Westermarck, incest taboos exist because the offspring of incestual relations have a greater chance of mortality. Assuch, natural selection may have crafted psychologicalmechanisms that lead people to feel sexual aversions for oth-ers to whom they are genetically related. Because peopletend to be genetically related to others with whom they arereared, Westermarck hypothesized that growing up togetherwas a critical proximate factor governing incest avoidance.From the standpoint of contemporary evolutionary psy-chology, Westermarck’s hypothesis seems not only reason-able but rather sophisticated given that few scholars hadapplied Darwinian ideas to the study of human behavior inthe late 1800s. Thus, it may come as a surprise that Wester-marck’s thesis had virtually no impact on psychologicalscholarship for the better part of the 20th century. One rea-son for the lack of influence was the ascension of Freudian psychoanalysis. Freud (1913/1953) took issue with Wester-marck’s hypothesis, claiming that people tend to avoid incestnot because evolved psychological mechanisms exist that prevent it but because human societies have created prohibi-tions against mating with kin to circumvent the biologicaland social consequences of incestuous behavior. More pro-vocatively, Freud argued that there would be no need fortaboos against incest unless there were incestuous urges to be repressed (see also Frazer, 1910).In the years since the debate between Westermarck andFreud, Freud’s impact on scientific psychology has waned.Moreover, the last 30 years have witnessed a resurgence of interest in Westermarck’s ideas, largely due to the rising prominence of evolutionary anthropology and psychology. Itis now widely accepted that there are social-cognitive adap-tations that evolved specifically to prevent incest. Indeed,incest avoidance is considered to be a quintessential psycho-logical adaptation (Schmitt & Pilcher, 2004). This position is based on a variety of data, including research on incest 1 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, USA 2 New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM, USA Corresponding Author: R. Chris Fraley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Psychology, 603 East Daniel Street, Champaign, IL 61820Email: rcfraley@uiuc.edu  at UNIV OF ILLINOIS URBANA on September 15, 2010psp.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Fraley and Marks 1203 avoidance in nonhuman animals, the cross-cultural preva-lence of incest avoidance, and the finding that children whoare reared together are less likely to marry one another—regardless of whether they are biologically related (e.g.,Shepher, 1971, 1983; Wolf, 1995). These observations haveled contemporary scholars to conclude not only that Wester-marck was right but that Freud was wrong (e.g., Lieberman& Symons, 1998; Wolf, 2004).In this article we argue that the intellectual debate betweenFreud and Westermarck may have been settled prematurely.Specifically, we present data that suggest that the noncon-scious activation of mental representations of kin leads toincreases in sexual desire for others (Experiment 1) and that people find facial images more sexually appealing whentheir own genes have been subtlety infused into those imageswithout their awareness (Experiment 2). However, when people are aware of the potential genetic relatedness betweenthemselves and the faces they are evaluating (i.e., whenincest taboos are activated), they find the faces less attractive(Experiment 3). These data suggest that there may be somelegitimacy to Freud’s controversial claim that the incesttaboo exists because there is a nonconscious propensity for people to find people who resemble kin attractive. Beforereporting these studies in more depth, we first review con-temporary Westermarckian perspectives on incest avoidance.We also summarize some of the data that these perspectivesdo not easily explain and discuss an integrated evolutionary- psychodynamic framework that may be capable of account-ing for those findings. Contemporary EvolutionaryModels of Incest Avoidance One of the most prominent neo-Westermarckian models of incest avoidance was put forward by Lieberman, Tooby, andCosmides (2003). According to these scholars, cognitivemechanisms governing incest avoidance operate by comput-ing an estimate of the genetic relatedness between self andother, and if that estimate is sufficiently high in magnitude,feelings of sexual aversion toward the other are triggered.Lieberman et al. referred to this computational mechanismas a nonconscious “genetic kinship estimator” (p. 821) andargued that the estimates it produces are influenced by avariety of social and developmental factors, such as whether people have shared a room, played together, and spent a con-siderable amount of time together. A visual illustration of theneo-Westermarckian model is shown in the upper panel of Figure 1. One of the advantages of this model is that it pro-vides a clear explanation for why people are less likely tomate with a person with whom they were reared. Accordingto the model, the experience of growing up with someoneshould increase a person’s estimate of the genetic relationship Figure 1. Models of incest avoidance The upper panel illustrates the key processes involved in neo-Westermarckian models, adapted from Lieberman, D., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2007), bypermission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature, 445, 727-731, copyright © 2007. The lower panel illustrates the key processes involved in the evolu-tionary psychodynamic model of incest avoidance.  at UNIV OF ILLINOIS URBANA on September 15, 2010psp.sagepub.comDownloaded from   1204 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36(9)  between the self and the other, which in turn should inhibitsexual desire toward him or her.Although the neo-Westermarckian model offers a credi- ble explanation for many empirical findings, there are someobservations that it cannot explain as easily. For example, ithas been widely documented that people tend to marry indi-viduals who are similar to themselves with respect to a vari-ety of physical attributes (e.g., Bereczkei, Gyuris, Koves, &Bernath, 2002; Zajonc, Adelmann, Murphy, & Niedenthal,1987)—a phenomenon referred to as homogamy . The pheno-typic similarities between spouses have led some writers tospeculate that a  sexual imprinting  process takes place inhumans, one in which early caregiving experiences helporganize the kinds of expectations (or “search images”) that people develop concerning desirable mates (e.g., Bateson,2004; Bereczkei, Gyuris, & Weisfeld, 2004; Bowlby, 1969;Diamond, 1992). The phenomenon of sexual imprinting wassrcinally described by early ethologists who noted that uponreaching puberty, geese who were reared by humans oftendirected their mating behavior toward humans. Sexual imprint-ing has been well established in several nonhuman species(Immelmann, 1972), but until recently, few researchers hadattempted to study sexual imprinting in humans. In one of the first rigorous investigations into this issue, Bereczkei et al.(2004) obtained photographs of 26 Caucasian women’sspouses and their adoptive fathers. A sample of more than 200undergraduate judges then attempted to match each woman’sadoptive father with her spouse in a multiple-choice test inwhich one photo was the true spouse and the other three werefoils. The data indicated that judges were able to match wom-en’s adoptive fathers with their spouses much better thanwould be expected by chance. This and other studies (e.g.,Bereczkei et al., 2002) are significant because they suggestthat early rearing experiences might be partly responsible forshaping mate preferences in adulthood.It is also noteworthy that research on the social psychol-ogy of attraction has documented that some of the mostimportant predictors of attraction are the kinds of factorsthat neo-Westermarckian perspectives hypothesize to inhibitsexual desire, such as familiarity, proximity, and a history of shared experiences (e.g., Aron, Norman, Aron, McKenna, &Heyman, 2000). One of the classic findings in social psy-chology is that proximity is the single best predictor of likingand attraction (e.g., Berscheid & Walster, 1974). Moreover,research on the mere exposure effect  has demonstrated that people tend to like objects more if they are familiar—even if that familiarity arises from nonconscious exposure (Kunst-Williams & Zajonc, 1980). Importantly, the mere exposureeffect has been documented in the domain of interpersonalattraction. Moreland and Beach (1992), for example, foundthat students were more likely to be attracted to a confeder-ate who had attended their classes 15 as opposed to 5 timesover the course of a semester (see also Saegert, Swap, &Zajonc, 1973). This finding raises the possibility that peoplemay be inclined to find kin, who are highly familiar, moreattractive than nonkin. An Evolutionary PsychodynamicPerspective on Incest Avoidance To review, existing data suggest that certain factors, such asgrowing up with someone, can lead to both sexual aversion and  attraction. These findings pose challenges for neo-Westermarckian perspectives on attraction. We believe itmay be possible to reconcile these disparate observations byintegrating some of Freud’s insights with those from social psychology and the evolutionary literature on sexual imprint-ing. Specifically, like Freud, we hypothesize that there arenonconscious mechanisms that lead people to feel sexuallyattracted to kin (see the lower portion of Figure 1). Theremay be a number of mechanisms that give rise to this effect,such as sexual imprinting, preferences for the familiar, orsome combination of these and other processes. Regardlessof the precise mechanisms, we posit that they have the neteffect of predisposing people to find genetically similar oth-ers (i.e., individuals who, more often than not, are familiarand part of the early rearing environment) to be more sexu-ally attractive than others would find them.It is important to note that this hypothesis, while having aFreudian flavor, is not a psychoanalytic one per se. A coretheme of this framework is that the kinds of phenomena thatcaptured the attention of Freud and other psychoanalystsmay be the product of relatively naive psychological mecha-nisms (see also Brumbaugh & Fraley, 2006; Greenwald,1992). For example, if people are attracted to familiar stimuli,a logical consequence is that people will be attracted to indi-viduals who were a part of their early caregiving environ-ments (i.e., highly familiar others). This effect, coupled withthe social prohibitions against inbreeding (see the follow-ing), may be sufficient to produce a variety of interestingcomplexes, conflicts, and compromises that are psychody-namic in their effects, if not in their srcins.Assuming that a predisposition exists for people to bedrawn toward people who resemble them, it is necessary toexplain why inbreeding is not more prevalent than it is.   Wehypothesize, as did Freud, that proximate inhibitions againstinbreeding are largely due to social norms rather than a non-conscious incest-avoidance adaptation per se. Social normsagainst inbreeding are not only pervasive but emotionally powerful. Many people are repulsed by the thought of romantic relations between kin (e.g., Haidt, Koller, & Dias,1993). Indeed, marriage among first cousins is illegal in 22American states (Bittles, 2004), and social sanctions againstmother–son relations have inspired one of the most fre-quently used derogatory terms in Western languages(Arango, 1989). Even in nonhuman primate societies, thesocial penalties for inbreeding are far from subtle. For exam- ple, Pusey (2004) observed that although young gorillas are at UNIV OF ILLINOIS URBANA on September 15, 2010psp.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Fraley and Marks 1205 allowed to mount their parents freely, this behavior is repri-manded as the children mature.It is possible, of course, to argue that these social inhibi-tions are the emergent result of evolved psychological mech-anisms for incest avoidance. We return to this issue in theGeneral Discussion, but for now, we emphasize that thisevolutionary psychodynamic perspective makes some pre-dictions that are not anticipated easily by neo-Westermarck-ian perspectives. Specifically, this framework implies that if cultural norms and taboos are bypassed, people will find oth-ers who are genetically similar to themselves more sexuallyattractive. However, when those taboos are activated, peopleshould find others who they believe to be related to the self less sexually attractive. Experiment 1 The present studies were designed to evaluate neo-Wester-marckian and evolutionary psychodynamic models in exper-imental situations in which they lead to different predictions.If there is an implicit tendency for people to be attracted tokin—a tendency that is not acknowledged consciously—itshould reveal itself when participants are unaware of theirrelatedness to the targets being evaluated. In Experiment 1 weasked people to rate the sexual attractiveness of images of strangers. Before each image appeared on the computer dis- play, we subliminally exposed people to one of two images.Participants in the experimental condition were exposed sub-liminally to an image of their opposite-sex parent. Participantsin the yoked control condition were exposed subliminally tothe same image, but for these participants, the image did not portray their  parent. This procedure allowed us to determinewhether activating representations of kin without the partici- pant’s awareness would facilitate or inhibit sexual attractiontoward novel individuals. According to neo-Westermarckian perspectives, activating parental representations should leadthe genetic kinship estimator to overestimate the relatedness between self and other, thus producing lower ratings of sex-ual attraction relative to the control condition. According tothe evolutionary psychodynamic model, activating parentalrepresentations without awareness should make the strangerseem more familiar, thus leading to heightened sexual attrac-tion relative to the control condition.  Method  Seventy-four undergraduates (36 men and 38 women) par-ticipated in the study to fulfill a requirement for an introduc-tory psychology class. The mean age of participants was19 years ( SD   = 2.52). Participants visited our laboratory fortwo ostensibly unrelated studies, one on personality andfamily photographs and another on physical attraction. Par-ticipants were instructed to bring a family photograph withthem to the research session. When participants arrived, weexplained that we were conducting research on the associa-tion between personality and the characteristics of people’sfamily photos. Specifically, we explained that people’sfamily photographs tend to vary with respect to how closely positioned family members are, whether family membersappear happy, and so on. We stated that the goal of ourresearch was to determine how personality is related tothese qualities. As participants filled out the questionnaires,the research team scanned the family photo and created adigital image of the opposite-sex parent for use in the sec-ond research session. All photos depicted biological familymembers.In the second, purportedly unrelated study participantswere asked to rate the sexual attractiveness of 100 faces. Par-ticipants were told that they would be viewing computerizedimages of people taken from a college yearbook. They wereinstructed to rate the sexual attractiveness of each face on a 1( not at all attractive ) to 7 ( extremely attractive ) scale. Weemphasized  sexual  attractiveness to ensure that the ratingswould not merely reflect general positive regard. The faceswere drawn from a Canadian college yearbook to help ensurethat they would be unfamiliar to our participants. For eachtrial, a fixation cross appeared for 1,000 ms, followed by a17-ms presentation of a prime image, followed immediately by a 17-ms mask. The image to be rated then appeared andremained on the screen until the participant pressed a numberkey to indicate how sexually attractive he or she thought theface was. Each prime and target image was presented at 300 ×360 pixels with a CRT monitor set to 75 hz refresh. Participantswere seated approximately 24 in. from the monitor.Participants were tested in same-sex pairs. One memberof the pair was randomly assigned to be the experimental participant; the other served as a yoked control. For the par-ticipant in the experimental condition, the prime image wasan image of that person’s opposite-sex parent. For the con-trol participant, the same image was used. For that partici- pant, however, the image did not depict a personal familymember. This procedure ensured that the primes used in theexperimental condition were not objectively more attractiveon average than those used in the control condition.When the session was complete, participants were queriedto determine whether they were aware of anything unusual. No participants reported seeing anything out of the ordinary.Moreover, none of the participants suspected that the twostudies were related or reported anything that suggested thatthey were aware of the nature of the priming. Participantswere then debriefed and dismissed. Results and Discussion There was a statistically significant effect of condition onratings of attraction, t  (72) = 2.08,  p   < .05, d    = .49. On aver-age, participants who had been primed with an image of theirown parent found the faces more sexually attractive (  M    = 3.82, at UNIV OF ILLINOIS URBANA on September 15, 2010psp.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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