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Mothers Who Kill Their Offspring: Testing Evolutionary Hypothesis in a 110-Case Italian Sample

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 36 Issue: 6 Dated: June 2012 Pages: 519-527
Andrea S. Camperio Ciani; Lilybeth Fontanesi
Date Published
June 2012
9 pages
This study examined incidences of Italian mothers killing their own children to determine whether an adaptive evolutionary hypothesis could explain the occurrence of the different types of killings.
This study examined three different types of incidents involving the death of a child - neonaticide, infanticide, and filicide - to determine whether an adaptive evolutionary hypothesis could explain the occurrence of the killing. The study found that mothers who committed neonaticide killed their offspring in a non-violent manner, attempted to conceal the body, and never attempted suicide after the killing of their children. On the other hand, mothers who committed infanticide or filicide killed their children in violent manner, made no attempt to conceal the body, and often attempted suicide or committed suicide after they killed their children. Data for the study were obtained from a sample of 110 cases of Italian mothers who killed 123 of their offspring between 1976 and 2010. The cases were classified using the following dichotomic variables: young, poverty, foreigner, hidden body, no partner, home, violent killing/suffocating, other offspring, suicide, and psychopathology. The study's findings indicate that the risk of a child being killed by its mother is highest in the first 24 hours after birth (neonaticide) and that this risk increases significantly if the mother is young, has no other offspring, and is in critical social and economic conditions. The study also found that neonaticide was never followed by the suicide of the mother. These and other findings indicate that young mothers may be following an adaptive evolutionary path to increase the biological fitness of the mother by eliminating an unwanted newborn and saving resources for future offspring that may be born in better social and economic conditions. The social implications of these findings are discussed. Figures, tables, and references


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