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The theory of inclusive fitness has transformed our understanding of cooperation and altruism. However, the proximate psychological underpinnings of altruism are less well understood, and it has been argued that emotional closeness mediates the relationship between genetic relatedness and altruism. In this study, we use a real-life costly behaviour (travel time) to dissociate the effects of genetic relatedness from emotional closeness. Participants travelled further to see more closely related kin, as compared to more distantly related kin. For distantly related kin, the level of emotional closeness mediated this relationship--when emotional closeness was controlled for, there was no effect of genetic relatedness on travel time. However, participants were willing to travel further to visit parents, children and siblings as compared to more distantly related kin, even when emotional closeness was controlled for. This suggests that the mediating effect of emotional closeness on altruism varies with levels of genetic relatedness.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Altruism, Child, Emotions, Family, Female, Humans, Interpersonal Relations, Likelihood Functions, Male, Object Attachment, Surveys and Questionnaires, Travel