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Genetic similarity and facial cues for kin recognition in humans


Nicole S Torosin, Joshua Ward, Adrian V Bell, Leslie A Knapp


Kin recognition is essential to the evolution of human cooperation, social organization, and altruistic behavior. However, the genetic underpinnings of kin recognition have been largely understudied. Facial resemblance is an important relatedness cue for humans and more closely related individuals are generally thought to share greater facial similarity. To evaluate the relationship between perceived self-resemblance and genetic similarity among biologically related and unrelated females, we administered facial self-recognition surveys to twenty-three sets of related females and genotyped three different genetic systems, human leukocyte antigens (HLA), neutral nuclear microsatellites and mitochondrial haplogroups, for each individual. Using these data, we examined the relationship between visual kin recognition and genetic similarity. We found that pairs of individuals identified as visually more similar had greater HLA allelic sharing when compared to less facially similar participants. We did not find the same relationship for microsatellite and mitochondrial similarity, suggesting that HLA allelic similarity increases the probability of perceived self-resemblance in humans while other genetic markers do not. Our results demonstrate that some genetic markers, such as HLA-DRB, may have significant influence on phenotype and that large scale surveys of HLA and facial feature morphology will yield valuable insight into the evolutionary biology of genotype- phenotype relationships and kin recognition.

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Last Updated: 3/24/21