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The Origins and Effects of Filial Piety (Xiao 孝): How Culture Solves an Evolutionary Problem for Parents

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Abstract Parent–offspring conflict theory hypothesizes that interests of offspring and parents are asymmetrical in key contexts including the offspring’s mating strategies and mate preferences. Evidence supports this hypothesis and documents these asymmetries in humans. However, offspring in East Asia have mate preferences and mating strategies that are in significantly greater harmony with their parents’ preferences about their mating choices as compared with offspring elsewhere in the world. The paper hypothesizes that the Confucian virtue of filial piety (xiao 孝) was designed and disseminated in order to benefit parents by enabling them successfully to extract more resources out of their offspring than is expected given either data from parent–offspring conflict theory or data from cross-cultural studies of mate preferences and mating strategies. The results of this project mark an early step in building a stable interdisciplinary platform from which to more accurately observe and appraise the unappreciated, awe-inspiring influence of Confucianism.


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