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Daddy and Baby: Evolutionary Legends Die Hard

David Klinghoffer


A colleague shares this gem from a get-together with friends:

I was hanging out with some friends last night and one of them is pregnant. Another gal in the group told her that her baby will look like the dad at first because this is a product of evolution — a way to confirm paternity. Of course I knew it was a just-so story and here’s an article in Scientific American actually admitting that. I just think it’s interesting because they rarely admit stuff like that. This article is old, but obviously people still talk about the issue.

The referenced article is from 2011:

Fact or Fiction: Do Babies Resemble Their Fathers More Than Their Mothers?

Recent studies do not support the claim of an enhanced resemblance between fathers and their young offspring

Does junior really have his father’s nose?

A common bit of parenting folklore holds that babies tend to look more like their fathers than their mothers, a claim with a reasonable evolutionary explanation. Fathers, after all, do not share a mother’s certainty that a baby is theirs, and are more likely to invest whatever resources they have in their own offspring. Human evolution, then, could have favored children that resemble their fathers, at least early on, as a way of confirming paternity.

The paternal-resemblance hypothesis got some scientific backing in 1995, when a study in Nature by Nicholas Christenfeld and Emily Hill of the University of California, San Diego, showed that people were much better at matching photos of one-year-old children with pictures of their fathers than with photos of their mothers….

Case closed? Hardly. “It’s a very sexy result, it’s seductive, it’s what evolutionary psychology would predict — and I think it’s wrong,” says psychologist Robert French of the National Center for Scientific Research in France. A subsequent body of research, building over the years in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior, has delivered results in conflict with the 1995 paper, indicating that young children resemble both parents equally. Some studies have even found that newborns tend to resemble their mothers more than their fathers.

It goes on from there. Read the rest.

The other day Doug Axe referred to the “legend” of natural selection with its creative prowess in generating biological novelties. But of course the legend has many sub-legends and derivatives. They die hard.

How many years, how many decades from now do you think consumers of science media will be getting together and sharing this particular tall tale, after even professional evolutionists have ceased to believe in it?

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay.

I’m on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.