Brain activity and love-withdrawal moderate effects of suggested kinship on negative appraisals

Esther Heckendorf, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Alexandra Voorthuis, Renske Huffmeijer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Facial resemblance serves as an important kinship cue in humans and, as such, facilitates kin recognition. Mechanisms to facilitate kin recognition exist in many different species and have probably evolved to promote nepotism and avoid inbreeding. Responses to facial resemblance may however be affected by a person's own (childhood) experiences with close relatives. In the present study, we investigated whether the degree of resemblance of children's faces with the participant's face was related to participants' positive and negative appraisals of the children's faces. We morphed pictures of an unfamiliar child's face with the participant's face and with the face of an unfamiliar adult, to create facial stimuli that differed in their degree of facial resemblance with the participant. We examined the effects of childhood experiences with parental love-withdrawal and participants' neural processing of facial identity (fusiform face area activity, FFA). As hypothesized, negative appraisal of the faces decreased linearly with increasing facial resemblance. In addition, lovewithdrawal and FFA activity moderated the relation between facial resemblance and negative appraisal. Participants who both reported high love-withdrawal and showed greater FFA activity showed the largest decrease in negative appraisals with increasing resemblance. Positive appraisal of the faces was not associated with resemblance of the child face to the participant's face. Future research should address the effects of phenotypic kinship cues on actual parental behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-30
Number of pages15
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Child faces
  • Facial resemblance
  • Fusiform face area
  • Kin recognition
  • Love-withdrawal

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