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Kin discrimination, negative relatedness, and how to distinguish between selfishness and spite

Patel, Matishalin; West, Stuart A.; Biernaskie, Jay M.


Stuart A. West

Jay M. Biernaskie


Spiteful behaviors occur when an actor harms its own fitness to inflict harm on the fitness of others. Several papers have predicted that spite can be favored in sufficiently small populations, even when the harming behavior is directed indiscriminately at others. However, it is not clear that truly spiteful behavior could be favored without the harm being directed at a subset of social partners with relatively low genetic similarity to the actor (kin discrimination, causing a negative relatedness between actor and harmed recipient). Using mathematical models, we show that (1) the evolution of spite requires kin discrimination; (2) previous models suggesting indiscriminate spite involve scenarios where the actor gains a direct feedback benefit from harming others, and so the harming is selfish rather than spiteful; (3) extreme selfishness can be favored in small populations (or, more generally, under local competition) because this is where the direct feedback benefit of harming is greatest.


Patel, M., West, S. A., & Biernaskie, J. M. (2020). Kin discrimination, negative relatedness, and how to distinguish between selfishness and spite. Evolution Letters, 4(1), 65-72.

Journal Article Type Letter
Acceptance Date Nov 18, 2019
Online Publication Date Feb 1, 2020
Publication Date Feb 1, 2020
Deposit Date Jun 17, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jul 3, 2024
Journal Evolution Letters
Print ISSN 2056-3744
Electronic ISSN 2056-3744
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 1
Pages 65-72
Keywords Competition; Harming; Inclusive fitness; Kin selection; Social evolution; Super-territory; Territory size
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Published article (430 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
© 2020 The Authors. Evolution Letters published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) and European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB).
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The moral rights of the named author(s) have been asserted.

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