Parent-Offspring Conflict Theory: An Evolutionary Framework for Understanding Conflict Within Human Families

Gabriel L. Schlomer, Marco Del Giudice, Bruce J. Ellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Decades of research demonstrate that conflict shapes and permeates a broad range of family processes. In the current article, we argue that greater insight, integration of knowledge, and empirical achievement in the study of family conflict can be realized by utilizing a powerful theory from evolutionary biology that is barely known within psychology: parent-offspring conflict theory (POCT). In the current article, we articulate POCT for psychological scientists, extend its scope by connecting it to the broader framework of life history theory, and draw out its implications for understanding conflict within human families. We specifically apply POCT to 2 instances of early mother-offspring interaction (prenatal conflict and weaning conflict); discuss the effects of genetic relatedness on behavioral conflict between parents, children, and their siblings; review the emerging literature on parent-offspring conflict over the choice of mates and spouses; and examine parent-offspring conflict from the perspective of imprinted genes. This review demonstrates the utility of POCT, not only for explaining what is known about conflict within families but also for generating novel hypotheses, suggesting new lines of research, and moving us toward the " big picture" by integrating across biological and psychological domains of knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)496-521
Number of pages26
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Genomic imprinting
  • Life history theory
  • Parent-offspring conflict
  • Prenatal conflict
  • Sibling relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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