Distinct Patterns of Adaptive Aggression

An unresolved question is whether the human propensity for aggression has evolved relatively low or high. Two opposing positions prevail. Before Darwin, they are generally represented by the opposing views of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes and later by the evolutionists Peter Kropotkin and Thomas Henry Huxley. Species, comparable to primates with a persistently low frequency of conflict (e.g., Callitrichidae or Muriqui, Brachyteles arachnoides). This position, therefore, holds that violence is supported mainly by recent cultural novelties, such as sedentary living, patriarchal ideology, or lethal technology).

On the other hand, the "Hobbes-Huxley model" rejects the idea of noble barbarism and argues that violence in the evolutionary past was frequent and adaptive. In this view, the human tendency is similar to that of primates with a high hierarchy of dominance and are relatively frequently killed by aggression, such as the chacma baboons, Papio ursinus, and chimpanzees. Pan troglodytes. Accordingly, cultural constraints on violence, such as social controls exercised by an influential leader, are seen as the cause of relative peace in human society.

Evolutionary Adaptation of Aggression

Aggressive activities are adaptive because they aid in a species' survival. In cases of aggressiveness, defeated animals are rarely killed. This is adaptive because the defeated animal will relocate elsewhere, dispersing the species across a greater region and alleviating the strain of fighting for resources. An adaptive solution to the problem of forced resource extraction would be aggression towards an assaulting rival. It can also establish a reputation that deters other potential attackers. In addition to resource protection, aggressiveness may be used to take control of other people's property.

The notion of an underlying human inclination to be aggressive – that the potential to be violent towards others is, at least in some instances, a fundamental element of our human constitution – is congruent with evolutionary psychology concepts. After all, self-preservation and self-improvement goals often demand us to protect others from injuring ourselves and others we care about. If violence is necessary for our existence or the survival of our genes, natural selection may cause humans, like any other species, to become violent. Humans must be aggressive in certain situations, which nature has equipped us with.

Animals' fight-or-flight response to a threat prompts them to sometimes attack and escape the situation. Humans have several possible responses to dangers, but only one is hostility. Once again, the socioeconomic condition is severe. We may respond aggressively in situations that make us uncomfortable or afraid or when others incite us, but we can also react calmly in other situations. Furthermore, there are cultural variances, such as the prevalence of violence in certain societies vs others.

Aggression is, without a doubt, genetically determined. Violent animals can be produced by crossing the most aggressive ones together. Children who are violent as children are also aggressive as adults, and identical twins are more comparable in their proclivity to be aggressive in their criminal record than fraternal twins. According to behavioural genetics research, criminal and violent behaviours are connected at around 0.70 for identical twins but only about 0.40 for pairs of fraternal twins.

The only evidence of a person-situational connection has been identified in studies to determine aggressive conduct. They concentrated on the influence of a specific genetic element, the monoamine oxidase (MAOA) gene, which is situated on the X chromosome and generates an enzyme that controls the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, hunger, and sleep, as well as inhibiting aggressiveness.

Hormones play a role in aggressiveness as well. Testosterone, a male sex hormone, has been linked to increased aggressiveness in both animals and humans. Various animal studies have revealed a substantial link between testosterone levels and aggressiveness. Humans appear to have a lesser bond than animals, yet it is nonetheless substantial. This divide aids our understanding of the origins and evolution of human violence.

Patterns of Aggression

Compared with many primates, humans have a high propensity for proactive aggression, a trait shared with chimpanzees but not bonobos. In contrast, humans have a lower propensity for aggressive responses than chimpanzees, and in this respect, humans are more like chimpanzees. This two-way classification of human aggression helps to solve two critical problems.

  • First, a long debate about the importance of aggression in human nature is wrong because both views are partly true. The Hobbes-Huxley view correctly recognizes the high probability of active violence, while the Rousseau-Kropotkin view correctly recognizes the low frequency of reactive aggression.

  • Second, the presence of two main types of human aggression resolves the execution paradox regarding the putative effects of capital punishment on self-domestication.

There are two main types of aggression

Impulsive (reactive) and intentional (active). Both often manifest as aggressive behaviour (such as slapping, hitting, or punching) or violent emotional outbursts. The main difference between the two is that one is done without thought or planning, and the other is done intentionally and on purpose, usually to gain some external reward. Below, more description of both will be provided.

  • Reactive Aggressive Behavior − Reactive aggressive behaviour is unplanned and impulsive. Often, they respond to feelings of discomfort, anger, fear, or the need to take revenge on others (usually for revenge). Strong emotions trigger these behaviours. The science behind it is this: When an emotion activates the acute threat response system in the brain, the hypothalamus, amygdala, and peritubular grey matter are stimulated. It causes people to act in ways they would not work under different circumstances. The term "road rage" is an excellent example of reactive aggression; if one driver cuts someone in traffic, the person in the other car may start berating and yelling at the driver without thinking first.

  • Proactive Aggression − Active aggression is any calculated, planned, and deliberate act. Often there is a motive behind this behaviour that is more than simply harming others, such as receiving an external reward. An example of this might be injuring someone during a robbery; although a thief intends to hurt someone, his ultimate aim is to obtain money or property by doing so. Harming another individual is only one way to achieve this goal. Active-aggressive behaviours are less common than reactive-aggressive ones but still occur frequently.


From the point of view of evolutionary psychology, the origin of aggressive behaviour cannot be explained by an exclusive hypothesis. Instead, aggression may be an evolutionary solution to some coping problems. Protection and acquisition of resources, gender rivals, status negotiations, and partner sexual infidelity emerge as sealable issues that lead to aggression.

Updated on: 19-Apr-2023


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