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Alfonso Troisi

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date: 09 May 2021

Nepotism is a social habit that is commonly condemned because it threatens our confidence in meritocracy and offends our sense of fair play. Yet, nepotism has been a common practice in different cultures throughout ancient, modern, and contemporary history. This chapter explores the biological bases of this powerful human inclination to help one’s own and to introduce the reader to those evolutionary theories that account for nepotistic behaviors: kin selection and reciprocal altruism. The chapter briefly reviews the physiological and psychological mechanisms that allow kin recognition and the cultural means that have been developed by human societies to expand the definition of kinship to include nongenetic relatives. The concluding reflection of the chapter is that nepotism was a driving force in human evolution but, in contemporary large-scale societies, its practice can have disrupting effects because it is incompatible with individual rights.

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