Original article:

On the adaptive origins and maladaptive consequences of human inbreeding: Parasite prevalence, immune functioning, and consanguineous marriage

Evolutionary Psychology 8(4): 658-676 Ashley D. Hoben, Department of Psychology, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands, a.d.hoben@rug.nlAbraham P. Buunk, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and Department of Psychology, University of Groningen, Groningen, The NetherlandsCorey L. Fincher, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USARandy Thornhill, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USAMark Schaller, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada


We propose that consanguineous marriages arise adaptively in response to high parasite prevalence and function to maintain coadapted gene complexes and associated local adaptation that defend against local pathogens. Therefore, a greater prevalence of inbreeding by consanguineous marriage is expected in geographical regions that historically have had high levels of disease-causing parasites. Eventually such marriages may, under the contemporary high movement of people with modern transportation, jeopardize the immunity of those who practice inbreeding as this leads to an increased susceptibility to novel pathogens. Therefore, a greater frequency of inbreeding is expected to predict higher levels of contemporary mortality and morbidity from infectious diseases. This parasite model of human inbreeding was supported by an analysis involving 72 countries worldwide. We found that historically high levels of pathogen prevalence were related positively to the proportion of consanguineous marriages, and that a higher prevalence of such marriages was associated with higher contemporary mortality and morbidity due to pathogens. Our study addresses plausible alternative explanations. The results suggest that consanguineous marriage is an adaptive consequence of historical pathogen ecologies, but is maladaptive in contemporary disease ecologies.


consanguineous marriages, cousin marriage, inbreeding, infectious disease, parasite prevalence

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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