From PsychEvos Wiki


Aggression is a complex behavior that involves acting on feelings of anger with violence or hostility. It is often associated with displays of force, harm, or threat in social settings might be physical or verbal, direct or indirect, and can be targeted towards others, oneself, or objects. Aggression in humans has been proposed to be both a product of evolutionary pressures and shaped by social and environmental factors[1].

Types of Aggression

Proactive and Reactive Aggression

Aggression can be classified into two major types: proactive and reactive aggression. Proactive aggression, or predatory aggression, is a premeditated, goal-directed behavior used to accomplish a specific aim or remove a perceived obstacle. Reactive aggression, on the other hand, is an impulsive response to a real or perceived threat or provocation[2].

Humans exhibit a higher propensity for proactive aggression compared to many other primates. This propensity is hypothesized to have evolved as a means for securing resources, achieving dominance, or defending oneself and their kin from potential harm.

Evolutionary Explanations of Aggression

Adaptive Functions of Aggression

According to the principles of evolutionary psychology, aggression has evolved in humans as a context-sensitive solution to multiple adaptive problems. Some adaptive problems for which aggression might have evolved as a solution include[3]:

  • Co-opting resources: Aggression can be useful in acquiring scarce resources like food, territory, or mates by displacing competitors.
  • Defending oneself and kin: Aggression can deter potential attackers, protect oneself or relatives from harm, and maintain the safety of one's group or family.
  • Enforcing social contracts: Aggressive behavior can help maintain social order by punishing those who violate social norms, thereby promoting cooperation among group members.
  • Establishing dominance hierarchy: Displays of aggression can facilitate the establishment and maintenance of social dominance hierarchy within groups, which in turn can increase an individual's access to resources and mating opportunities.
  • Pursuing mating opportunities: Aggression can be used to drive away same-sex rivals or coerce potential mates, thereby increasing reproductive success.
  • Reputation management: The use of aggression can signal strength and toughness, deterring potential aggressors, and attracting allies.
  • Protecting territory: Aggression can be deployed to defend one's territory or resources against intruders, ensuring the continued access and control over these critical assets.

These adaptive problems and their corresponding aggressive solutions represent a balance between individual survival and reproductive potential. Aggression can be adaptive if it increases fitness by improving access to resources or mates while minimizing costs, such as physical injury or social ostracism[4].

Evidence Supporting the Evolutionary Basis of Aggression

Various lines of evidence support the evolutionary basis of aggression in humans. For example[5]:

  • Animal behavior: Many examples of aggression can be seen in species across the animal kingdom. As a primal emotion shared by humans and other animals alike, aggression is believed to have evolved to serve a variety of adaptive purposes.
  • Genetic factors: The heritability of aggressive behavior has been demonstrated through various genetic studies. Some genes have been identified that are associated with aggression in humans, suggesting a biological basis for this behavior.
  • Neurobiological correlates: Neural pathways associated with aggressive behavior have been identified, especially in areas of the brain involved in emotional regulation, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. The role of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are also implicated in aggression regulation.
  • Cross-cultural consistency: Aggressive behaviors can be found in societies across the globe, indicating that this behavior has deep roots in human evolutionary history.

Gender Differences in Aggression

There is evidence supporting the existence of gender differences in aggression-related behaviors. Males generally exhibit higher rates of physical aggression than females, while females tend to engage in more indirect forms of aggression, such as social ostracism or spreading rumors. These differences are proposed to be the result of evolutionary pressures influencing male and female reproductive strategies[6].

Males might have faced increased selection pressures to display aggressive behaviors as a means to secure resources, establish dominance, and compete for mates. In contrast, females may have experienced less selective pressure to engage in overt physical aggression due to their primary need for investment towards offspring protection and care.


The evolutionary perspective on aggression suggests that aggressive behaviors have evolved as context-sensitive solutions to adaptive problems in human social living. Aggression serves multiple functions, including resource acquisition, self-defense, social order enforcement, and reproductive success. The presence of aggression across different animal species, its heritability in genetic studies, and its prevalence across cultures all support the evolutionary basis of this behavior. Gender differences in aggression reflect the influence of evolutionary pressures on male and female reproductive strategies.