Why we think newborn babies look more like their fathers and other myths and misconceptions about evolution

Credit: Michelle Gibson
Credit: Michelle Gibson

In chatting about this or that, about babies, dating, or the mysterious lives of cats, someone brightly chimes “That’s because of evolution!” It’s easy to accept and internalize those ideas, re-hashing them at parties in an endless cycle.

This reflects a misunderstanding of both the process of science and the process of evolution. Any discussion of a scientific hypothesis to explain a pattern should ask first, “is the pattern real?” and second, “could anything else lead to the same pattern?”

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There are a lot of possible explanations for why my new baby friend may resemble her father more than her mother… If there were data to support the idea that most babies resemble their father (which there are not) then the realm of possibilities gets a little more interesting, and we begin to speculate. The idea that this resemblance is an adaptation to induce men to care for their own children (and the implication that otherwise they would abandon them) fits very nicely into the gender roles that many human societies perpetuate. Armchair evolutionary psychologists love to reinforce gender stereotypes, touting that men are built for fighting and hunting and not caregiving…

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Confirmation bias kicks in: people who want these statements to be true will believe them to be true without looking for good evidence.


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