Aggression as a Solution to Adaptive Problems

We eat lunch, and someone pushes our tiffin box to the floor. Naturally, we turn angry, and we might hit them too. What is unclear is what made us take this step and how it has come about. The beginnings of aggression are not the subject of any evolutionary psychological theory. However, the best probable ones have been elucidated below.

Aggression as a Solution to Adaptive Problems

Chimpanzees are not humans, so we should avoid making general comparisons between human beings and other species. By itself, the existence of high chimpanzee violence may not be indicative of human aggression. Only two species—chimpanzees and humans—out of the more than ten million animal species, including the four thousand mammals, have been shown to exhibit male-initiated coordinated coalitions that invade adjacent areas and result in deadly attacks on members of their species.

Like chimpanzees, humans also create aggressive male-bonded coalitions, whose members aid one another in their shared efforts to aggress against others. Such rivalries have been present throughout recorded human history, including those between the Spartans and the Athenians, the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Palestinians and the Israelis, the Sunnis and Shi'ites, and the Tutsis and the Hutus. Men have frequently banded together to attack other groups or to defend their own throughout history. No other known animal has this particular pattern of aggressiveness with humans and chimpanzees.

Types of Aggression

Following are the major types of aggression −

Co-opt Others' Assets

Possibly more significant than any organism, humans hoard resources that, in the past, were essential to their sustenance and procreation. They consist of cultivated land and the availability of clean water, nourishment, equipment, and weaponry. There are various ways to get accessibility to other people's precious assets, including social exchange, theft, and deception. Another way to appropriate other people's resources is through aggression. Resource coercion aggression can take place at the personal or collective level.

One can physically coerce people into giving up resources at the individual level. Aggression in children is frequently motivated by resources like toys and territory. Mature versions encompass burglaries and bashings used to coerce people into handing over money or other valuables. Throughout documented human civilization, the conflict has been utilized to seize other people's land, with the victorious parties taking the spoils.

Defend Against Attack

Would-be targets have a significant adaptation challenge amid hostile conspecifics because they risk losing the precious resources that their attackers have taken over. Victims may also sustain harm or pass away, making it difficult to survive and reproduce. Protecting oneself from damage can also shield one's partner, kids, or other close relatives from potential harm. Both men and women have been known to put their existences at risk to stop their partners or children from being harmed, mistreated, or killed. Aggressive victims may also suffer losses in terms of prestige and image.

Losing face or honor due to abuse that goes unpunished can encourage other people to abuse you more. These people may choose their victims partly due to their vulnerability to abuse or lack of desire to retaliate. Hence, using aggression to repel an attack is a viable option. By preventing one's resources from being stolen against one's will, aggression may be a workable idea for this evolutionary dilemma. It can be employed to develop a reputation that discourages other potential aggressors. It may also be utilized to stop the decline in regard and prestige from mistreating victims.

Cost-Prohibitive Intrasexual Rivalry

Same-sex rivals seeking identical commodities present a third adaptation difficulty. Proximity to desirable individuals of the opposite gender is one such resource. Although it is a stereotypical idea of intrasexual competitiveness, the imagery of the bully throwing sand in the eyes of an inferior person and leaving with that man's partner is vital. Verbal jabs, bashings, and murder are all examples of aggressive behavior used to exact expenses on rivals.

Both men and women disparage their same-sex rivals, casting doubt on their character and reputation to make them lesser appealing to the other sex. Conversely, male competitors in duels will occasionally kill their female opponents. A cost imposed on a rival can result in an advantage for the perpetrator since evolution occurs per pattern variations.

Bargain Power Structures and Position

Aggression's role in elevating one's prestige or authority within pre-existing power structures is a fourth evolutionary hypothesis. A good illustration of how aggressiveness is ritualized in contemporary society is boxing contests, where the winner receives social advancement. Men who risk their lives in battle to kill their foes are praised for their bravery and heroism, elevating their community's prestige. Men who hurt individuals of other factions or rival groups with savagery advance in prestige inside street gangs.

The idea that aggressiveness might occasionally serve the adaptive purpose of elevating status does not indicate that this tactic is effective in all social contexts. Several organizations may experience a status reduction as a result of aggression. The aim is to identify the underlying dimensions that have evolved and are responsive to the social settings where violence is advantageous.

Prevent Potential Aggression from Competitors

Developing an aggressive reputation may serve as a deterrent to others' violence and other cost-inflicting behaviors. Most individuals would hesitate before robbing a Godfather contract killer or tussling with fighter Muhammad Ali. Furthermore, most people would hesitate to make flirtatious advances toward a biker gang leader's fiancée. Hence, hostility and the propensity for aggressiveness can serve as repellents, assisting in the adaptive challenge of preventing others from appropriating one's assets and partners.

Stop Long-Term Partners from Cheating

Several empirical data point to male sexual jealousy as the primary reason for or setting for domestic violence. For instance, surveys of abused women's shelters indicate that women often blame their husbands' or partners' irrational envy for the violence. Several men hit their partners or spouses to stop them from having relationships with other men, as disgusting as that may be.

Aggression's Context-Specificity

This list of six major adaptive issues for which violence may be a tactical answer is incomplete. Nonetheless, this view does imply that hostility is not a singular, universal, or context-blind tactic. Aggression is more likely to be very context-specific, arising only in the circumstances similar to those in which our predecessors lived distinct adaptive challenges and benefited from particular outcomes.

Think about using domestic violence to address the adaptive issue of a partner's possible infidelity. Men who, for example, regard their wives less than they do or see a decline in the commodities that women regard (such as the joblessness of their spouses) are more susceptible to this issue. In these circumstances, it is more possible that a woman will cheat on her partner or end the relationship entirely. It is projected that males in these situations will be more violent than men whose spouses are less inclined to err on them or break up with them.

The setting of expenses must be considered while evaluating adaptive gains. By its very nature, aggression imposes costs on those around it, and it is unreasonable to expect them to be inactively or indifferently absorbed. The tendency for retaliatory violence to result from aggressiveness is among the most compelling results in studies on aggression.

Aggression and counter-aggression loops may occasionally result from this. The effects of aggressiveness on one's reputation is a crucial context. Many cultural groups have different views on whether aggressiveness improves or disproves prestige. The victim's capacity and desire to exact revenge is another cost aspect.

Bullies in schools generally target innocent people or "whipping lads" who will not or are unable to defend themselves. Similarly, a man will not likely beat his wife for interacting with another person if she has four strong brothers and a prominent father who lives close. So, the existence of a broader family is one economic setting that ought to restrain the appearance of spousal abuse. Aggressors may experience reputational harm in particular situations due to their hostility.

For instance, physical violence is frowned upon in academic settings, and individuals who use it risk being shunned. Some street gangsters will suffer an irreversible social decline if they do not act aggressively when challenged. As a result, research showing that violence varies across situations, cultures, and individuals does not in any way refute specific evolutionary explanations. Context selectivity itself is a crucial testing tool for evolutionary ideas.


Our forefathers have been facing numerous battles, and one response has always been to grasp what is theirs aggressively. However, it is not crystal clear as to the actual underpinnings of aggression, but a few probable candidatures have been elucidated, including getting assets, gender rivalry, etc. Aggression can repel an attack, protect oneself from damage, develop a reputation, and stop the decline in regard and prestige from victims being mistreated.

Aggression is used to exact expenses on rivals, gain prestige, prevent potential aggression from competitors, and stop long-term partners from cheating. Aggression is context-specific, arising only in the circumstances similar to ones in which our predecessors lived adaptive challenges and benefited from particular outcomes.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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