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Incest/Inbreeding Taboos

Nature Versus Nurture

In current incest taboo literature, the most pronounced dispute reflects the mind/body debate. Scholars prescribing inheritable social behavior, as opposed to those postulating that social behavior is produced through environmental experiences, presently dominate much of the discussion. With the publication of Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology (1975), the extension of Darwin's natural selection theory to complex human behaviors experienced a zealous revival. Central to this revival is the assertion by human sociobiologists that because of the universal character of the incest taboo, and the prevalence of inbreeding avoidance in other species, incest/inbreeding avoidance in humans represents the best example of a naturally selected behavior.

Sociobiologists of human behavior have supported their theory of incest/inbreeding avoidance by employing research from four major areas. These include research exploring the universal nature and compliance with incest rules; studies of inbreeding harm; ethological and animal research on inbreeding avoidance; and investigations of marriage practices among children raised together (Ruse 1981–1982; Leavitt 1990). A critical look at these research areas, however, raises significant questions regarding their support for human sociobiological hypotheses. Specifically, the deleterious hypothesis of inbreeding, which underlies the sociobiology thesis on incest avoidance, has been called into question.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Social IssuesIncest/Inbreeding Taboos - Historical Review, Nature Versus Nurture, Incest/inbreeding Harm, Sibling Marriage And Human Isolates