Comparative Evolutionary Perspectives on Violence

Nicholas E. Newton-Fisher and Melissa Emery Thompson

in The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Perspectives on Violence, Homicide, and War

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738403
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Comparative Evolutionary Perspectives on Violence


Perhaps more than for any other human behavior, the evolutionary heritage of violence has been the subject of vigorous debate: whether shared patterns of intraspecific aggression between humans and other species doom us to a bloody existence. This chapter reviews intraspecific aggression and violence among mammalian species, focusing on primates. It highlights three themes: (1) aggression is a part of everyday life for most social animals, (2) the vast majority of conflicts in animal societies are of low intensity, and (3) there are extraordinary examples within the broad spectrum of aggressive behaviors seen in nonhumans that conform to even the most anthropocentric definitions of violence. To illustrate this third theme, the chapter reviews violence in chimpanzees, the extant species most closely related to humans and that, next to humans, exhibits the most spectacularly gruesome and varied aggressive repertoire in mammals.

Keywords: chimpanzee; Pan troglodytes; primate; mammal; lethal; aggression; comparative; gang assault; imbalance of power; infanticide

Article.  15580 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »