R. Michael Brown and Stephanie L. Brown

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


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The focus of this chapter is suicide, with emphasis on two evolutionary explanations. One views suicide as a by-product of states, traits, or predispositions that may have been adaptive in ancestral environments. The other views suicide as an evolved response that is conditioned on rare but well-specified environmental circumstances. The chapter considers this second approach—an inclusive fitness model of self-destructive motivation—in some detail. This model identifies circumstances under which self-preservation might be expected to break down—namely, the coupling of low individual reproductive potential with a sense of being a burden to close kin (burdensomeness). Although the model was designed to show how self-destructive phenomena might have evolved in ancestral environments, there is growing evidence to suggest that it is also capable of predicting instances of suicidal thinking and behavior in the present. We review that evidence and include a description of our own program of research that has tested and extended the model.

Keywords: suicide; suicidal thinking; suicidal behavior; evolutionary; inclusive fitness; burdensomeness; reproductive potential; self-destructive

Article.  15888 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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