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Social Brain, Distributed Mind$
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Robin Dunbar, Clive Gamble, and John Gowlett

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780197264522

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264522.001.0001

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Deacon's Dilemma: The Problem of Pair-bonding in Human Evolution

Deacon's Dilemma: The Problem of Pair-bonding in Human Evolution

(p.154) (p.155) 8 Deacon's Dilemma: The Problem of Pair-bonding in Human Evolution
Social Brain, Distributed Mind

Robin Dunbar

British Academy

Humans have an unusual mating system — nominally monogamous pair-bonds set within multimale/multifemale communities. In the context of large, dispersed communities, this inevitably places a significant stress on mating strategies, especially for males for whom paternity uncertainty is a real problem. This chapter discusses the nature of this bonding process in terms of the proximate mechanisms that make it possible, and then asks why such a phenomenon might have evolved. It suggests that the evidence for the importance of biparental care is weak, and a more likely explanation is that females attached themselves to males in order to reduce the risks of harassment and infanticide from other males. Finally, the discussion examines when pair-bonds of this kind might have evolved during the course of hominin evolution, and suggests that it might have been quite late.

Keywords:   mating system, monogamy, biparental care, hominin evolution, infanticide

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