Although unrelated friends are genetically equivalent to strangers, several lines of reasoning suggest that close friendship may sometimes activate processes more relevant to kinship and that this may be especially true for women. We compared responses to strangers, friends, and kin in two studies designed to address distinct domains for which kinship is known to have functional significance: incest avoidance and nepotism. Study 1 examined emotional responses to imagined sexual contact with kin, friends, and strangers. Results revealed that women, compared to men, treated friends more like kin. Study 2 examined benevolent attributions to actual kin, friends, and strangers. Results revealed that women treated friends very much like kin, whereas men treated friends very much like strangers. The current findings support a domain-specific over a domain-general approach to understanding intimate relationships and raise a number of interesting questions about the modular structure of cognitive and affective processes involved in these relationships.
Published in Evolution and Human Behavior, 2007.