Adoption and Fosterage in Human Societies: Adaptations or Enigmas?

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

Here, the same kind of analysis is extended to fosterage in West Africa, another case in which important elements of parental care are routinely delegated to individuals other than the biological parents. This analysis reveals that the patterns of fosterage are largely consistent with predictions derived from kin selection theory, and demostrates striking parallels in the patterns of these transactions in Oceania, the North American Arctic, and West Africa. Taken together, these data suggest that biological factors cannot be ignored in explanations of adoption and fosterage in human societies...Other models that incorporate both biological and cultural factors may ultimately prove to be more useful in explaining the patterns and origins of these behaviors [adoption and foster care]. This analysis strongly suggests, however, that biological factors cannot be ignored in explanantions of adoption and fosterage in human societies. (Silk, 40)

About the Author

Dr. Joan B. Silk is a professor of Biological Anthroplogy at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is interested in how natural selection shapes the evolution of social behavior in primates. Most of her empirical work has focused on the behavioral and reproductive strategies of female baboons (Papio cynocephalus, P. ursinus). Recent work documents the adaptive benefits females derive from close social bonds. She is particularly interested in questions that explicitly link studies of nonhuman primates to humans. Experimental work conducted with chimpanzees and children focuses on the phylogenetic origins and ontogenetic development of prosocial preferences.

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