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Share The Westermarck effect: shared childhood nullifies sexual attraction

Mireia Long

Our colleagues from Engadget Science have explained to us that there is something called the Westermarck effect, which determines human beings, we do not feel sexually attracted by the people with whom we grow up in our childhood, especially if they are parents or siblings.

This is possibly at the base of one of the most widespread taboos in all societies: incest.

The name " Westermarck effect " is due to a Finnish anthropologist who defined it at the end of the 19th century and then it has been confirmed by a multitude of anthropological and also ethological works in primates: the shared upbringing annuls the sexual attraction.

The study of this phenomenon also includes children raised as siblings from the earliest childhood and that, in keeping with known marriage customs in Taiwan in which the girl is adopted into the family of the future husband from small to ensure a couple to this without the costs of the dowry.

These marriages had a high divorce rate and, in many cases, the girl had been forced to marry since she did not feel attracted to the young man with whom she had spent her childhood.

In a small number of cultures this taboo has not existed, as among the leading classes of Ancient Egypt, but, in general, can be found in all current and historical cultures and societies, being also legally punished and abhorred in an absolute manner by the rest of the people of each of the cultures studied.

On the contrary, if there are some cases of siblings who, not having grown up together and without knowing each other, become sexually related and even get married, perhaps due to that alarm that prevents us from being attracted to brothers or very close family members, in their Case does not work because you did not share childhood.

The conclusion is that there is a mechanism in our psyche that makes us have no sexual interest towards the individuals with whom we grew up in close relationship in early childhood.

Incest, therefore, is something more than cultural taboo, is nourished by instinctual impulses that seem to favor exogamy, that is, that human beings seek their partner outside their genetically closest group and thus favor the survival of the species through the diversification of hereditary traits.

It is unknown that it produces the Westermarck effect, but it seems to have a natural, rather than cultural, origin and may be produced by smell, sibling competitiveness or other biological reasons that form in our minds the idea that some people are not available as sexual partners.

Via | Engadget Science