Natural Violence

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Let's get our myth-busting caps on and think about this. What does it mean to be aggressive by nature? Even more the point, what is aggression and where does it come from? If humans have evolved as aggressors, if using violence is a core part of our nature, then aggression needs to be a thing a trait that can be targeted and shaped by evolutionary processes.

Are Humans Inherently Violent?

There also needs to be evidence that humans and our primate relatives regularly rely on aggression, over other types of behavior, to achieve mating and other social successes. Aggression is not a single trait, or an easily described behavioral system. In humans, there are no consistent patterns of aggressive behaviors that make men have more luck with women or succeed over other men for status, even though sometimes aggression does play a role. Even when fighting, many of the most effective professionals such as in boxing and Ultimate Fighting are good because of their ability to strategically constrain their aggression.

Okay, but what if aggression is itself a physiological system part of our body that has been favored over evolutionary time? Everything involved in the expression of aggression is tied to other systems, and its use in behavior is highly contextual. One version of this gene is associated with hyperaggression in males it is little studied in females. However, expression of this gene is related to childhood stressors and life experience.

These same kinds of complexities are true for serotonin, testosterone, and the other hormones and neurotransmitters associated with aggression. There is no consistent system or pattern in the human body or mind that we can point out as the seat or the main actor in aggressive behavior. Well, what about the other primates and our fossil ancestors: our evolutionary comparisons?


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Across the primates, you find that within-species violence resulting in death is rare, and not wide-scale. There is also no one dominant or consistent pattern of male aggression tied to mating success across primate species. Increased social inequality and more complex political and economic systems seem to correlate with more types of aggression and violence in human societies. Humans can, and do, engage in a wide variety of aggression. There is insufficient evidence to argue that we have evolved a suite of specifically aggressive behaviors to succeed in the world.

In fact, it is largely our abilities to get along and to negotiate complex social problems, with and without aggression, that make humans one of the most successful species on this planet a topic for a future blog. Dive into the actual datasets and debates, and go bust some myths for yourself.

Archer, J. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry — DeWall, C. In Shaver, P.

Is Violence Embedded in Our DNA?

Human Aggression and Violence: causes, manifestations, and consequences. American Psychological Association Pp. Ferguson, B. In Sussman, R. Origins of Altruism and Cooperation. Fuentes, A Race, monogamy, and other lies they told you: busting myths about human nature , Berkeley, University of California Press. Hart, D. New York: Basic Books. Muller, M. Harvard University Press. Nelson, R. Siegel, A. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry Walker, P.

Keep it up! There are portions of the brain associated with it, even chemical identifiers So it is a part of our nature. What is worth considering is discussions like - do we as a society need an outlet eg running, prostitution, etc or is that a fallacy? How much? I come from a very peaceful family, no history of violence. I ask these questions with at least one controversial reference on purpose because I don't think we truly understand those links with aggression and violence.

What is to be explained?

Because it's based on sex? No consistent pattern? Are you blind? This feels like some anthropocentric white-wash. Boxers control their aggression, but still deal in violence, and people pay to watch it. But that's not what this is about, right? You're saying that violence is okay as long as it's controlled. No, that just makes us more cunning. It doesn't take away the fact that we are a violent species. We have industries based on violence. The arms industry, the meat and dairy industries, even medicine practices the killing of pathogens and other forms of life.

Heck, our own immune system developed mainly to kills things; it's inside of us! I wish people like you with the privilege of airtime to speak on these matters would just be honest. During the next months, the two groups patrolled their new boarders regularly Goodall In , hostility between the groups increased Goodall The Kasakela males began by making "raids.

When all hyped up, the group would set out to the border and deviously scout the area, sometimes penetrating the southern border. These raids were not to find food, that was reserved for a different time of day. The first attack came on a lone Kahama male feeding on his side of the border.

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A group of six Kasakela males attacked him beating him brutally for ten minutes with their fists, teeth, and feet. The male was left mortally wounded Goodall Over the next four years there were eyewitness accounts of similar attacks on four of the males and one of the females. Another of the males was found dead with obvious beating injuries and the remaining two males and females disappeared Goodall The most grievous attack was on an elderly, harmless male who, to mark his age, had for many years ceased to involve himself in dominance competitions.

He had been a well-incorporated member of the Kasakela community all his life until the recent Kahama break-off. This male was defenseless to his multiple attackers. During the minute attack he never fought back, even after he had given up trying to protect his body from their blows, his Kasakela attackers continued to beat him.

WHO | Violence publications and resources

In the end, the Kahama group was annihilated. The only known survivors were three adolescent female offspring of the, now missing, Kahama adults. These young females were assimilated into the Kasakela community Goodall After Goodall's research hit the world of science, and it did so with much uproar Goodall , similar intra-specific killings were witnessed in other social animals and in other groups of chimpanzees and apes.

Wolves for instance are now well known for being vicious to their own kind. Fellow wolves cause almost half of wolf mortality not caused by humans. Cheetahs, lions, and hyenas also show traits of extreme violence and killing of their own species. It seems that ants are the worst by far. Ants are renowned for their conquest and genocide of neighboring ant colonies Barash Barash made a particularly thought provoking statement in his article about animal violence, "If ants had nuclear weapons they would probably end the world in a week" qt.

Intra-specific violence has evolutionary advantages.

It guarantees territory and resources to the most dominant factions of the species' society Goodall It can also serve as a kind of population control since it is most often brought on in times of decreased resources Hayden The evolutionary advantages for intra-specific violence are not, however, as blatant as they are for another disturbing yet quite real form of violence, infanticide.

Sarah Hrdy traveled to India in the early 's to study the effects of overpopulation in Hanuman's langur monkeys with hopes of applying this to humans. In langur society, one male controls a group of several females and their offspring. All the males that do not have females form separate, all male, communities. Hrdy was disturbed by her observations of repeated cases of infanticide from these outside males. When the intruding male approached a community he first killed all the infant langurs. She speculated that he did this for two reasons: 1 the females would realize the incompetence of their male as a protector of their children and 2 it shortened the time period until the mother was ready to mate again.

Thus, the male intruder had a distinct evolutionary advantage for passing along his genes Zimmer Since Hrdy's observations were revealed, there have been countless more observations of infanticide in the wild Barash Male lions are some of the biggest culprits. The death rate of nursing cubs skyrockets upon the entrance of a new male into a pride. Often within six months all the cubs are dead Zimmer Lions are by no means alone in there continual infanticide, they are joined by jacana birds, howler monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, lemurs, fish, bears, wasps, ground squirrels, and the list goes on Barash The list of creatures that commit infanticide continues and includes humans.

It is common for a child to be buried along with his or her deceased father. When the people were asked why they do this, they responded with "That's our custom".

There is another even more alarming statistic for the American pre-school age child. If the child is a stepchild, they are sixty times more likely to be the victim of infanticide than if they are a biological child Zimmer For humans and animals alike, war and violence seem to be prompted by severe competition for resources Hayden This sort of behavior has the potential to wreak havoc upon the society but also to produce beneficial results.

According to Darwin the selective pressures caused by wars in ancient societies likely increased communication skills, enhanced cooperation, courage, and intelligence. Darwin proposed that war was the cause of the great gap between humans and animals. This hypothesis suggested that entire groups of mentally inferior, yet still competitive, hominids were eliminated during war and genocide leaving humans as the ultimate winners with no close competition Goodall How do we, as humans, handle this apparent violent nature of ours?

Do we write off violence as something inescapable, and decide that world peace is the ultimate unattainable, idealistic goal? As a pacifist how does one deal with this kind of evidence? There still might be some hope. This hope can be found in human history, theory, and in scientific evidence from other animal behavior studies. By understanding how we developed this way, why it was necessary, and our gains and losses from this as a species we may have the potential to create a world without war.