Autism as the low-fitness extreme of a parentally selected fitness indicator

Andrew Shaner, Geoffrey Miller, Jim Mintz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Siblings compete for parental care and feeding, while parents must allocate scarce resources to those offspring most likely to survive and reproduce. This could cause offspring to evolve traits that advertise health, and thereby attract parental resources. For example, experimental evidence suggests that bright orange filaments covering the heads of North American coot chicks may have evolved for this fitness-advertising purpose. Could any human mental disorders be the equivalent of dull filaments in coot chicks-low-fitness extremes of mental abilities that evolved as fitness indicators? One possibility is autism. Suppose that the ability of very young children to charm their parents evolved as a parentally selected fitness indicator. Young children would vary greatly in their ability to charm parents, that variation would correlate with underlying fitness, and autism could be the low-fitness extreme of this variation. This view explains many seemingly disparate facts about autism and leads to some surprising and testable predictions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-413
Number of pages25
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008


  • Autism
  • Fitness indicator
  • Parental selection
  • Sexual selection
  • Sibling rivalry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Autism as the low-fitness extreme of a parentally selected fitness indicator'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this