Gay Men's Evolutionary Role May Be to Help Protect Young Kin

FRIDAY Feb. 12, 2010 -- Homosexual men appear to have an important role to play in perpetuating the family genes, a new study suggests.

While gay men may never have children of their own, they often play the part of "super uncle" -- a relative who devotes a lot of time and energy to children within the family. This altruistic behavior can enhance the survival prospects of their young kin, according to evolutionary psychologists at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

The researchers conducted their study on the Pacific island of Samoa, where homosexual males are recognized as a distinct gender category called fa'afafine.

Previous studies have shown that fa'afafine are much more likely than Samoan women or heterosexual men to behave altruistically toward their nieces and nephews through actions such as babysitting, providing tutoring and paying for medical care and education.

In this study, the researchers investigated whether this altruism was limited to children within the family or all children in general. They found that the fa'afafines' generous behavior was mostly focused on their own nieces and nephews.

The study authors noted that Samoan culture is very localized and centered on tight-knit extended families, whereas Western societies tend to be highly individualistic and homophobic. But Samoa's community-centered culture may be representative of the type of environment in which homosexuality evolved eons ago.

The study was released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Psychological Science.

More information

Mental Health America has more about sexual orientation.

Posted: February 2010


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