Are Humans Genetically Inclined to Violence?

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Are Humans Genetically Inclined to Violence?

David Carrier, the head of the Evolutionary Biomechanics Lab at the University of Utah, is determined to prove Humankind evolved from raw violence.  This is why he and his team are painstakingly tying fishing lines to each tendon of a disembodied arm and connecting them to guitar tuning knobs.  Researchers can move fingers in specific ways and directions measuring the different strain induced on bones when the hand is bashed into a padded dumbbell. These experiments aims to draw a conclusion that violence is in our system and that humans have an ingrained sense of what it would be like to become violent.

 

Carrier’s research which culminated in 2015 produced a paper showing how a buttressed fist, where the thumb is closed against the index and middle fingers, allows a safer way to hit someone or something, with brute force.  Being that our previous primate cousins did not have opposable thumbs and therefore no ability to clench a fist.  Carrier professes that because of violence we evolved with thumbs for better striking ability.  He set out to determine “a suite of distinguishing characteristics that are consistent with the idea that we’re specialized, at some level, for aggressive behavior.”

 

Carrier and his team have not only used cadaver arms but also live fighters.  They have realigned postures, hands, and faces figuring the attributes that enabled us(humans) to fight against each another.    

Photo by: ArtsyBee via Pixabay

The conclusions Carrier has come to have raised some eyebrows within the evolutionary science and behavioral community. Carrier’s critics contend that just because a buttressed fist protects the hand during a punch doesn’t mean the hand evolved that way for this specific reason any more than the human nose evolved to hold up glasses.

 

His critics go even further into the psychological realm taking on the controversial question-Are humans biologically designed for violence, or are violence and war cultural phenomena?

 

There have been many over the years coming to the same conclusions as Carrier, (for different reasons mind you), while cultural anthropologists argue against it.  Alisse Waterston, president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), and a cultural anthropologist at the City University of New York who studies violence said: “A major takeaway from the anthropological literature is that humans have the potential, which is different from the tendency, to be violent.” So you can see here where it’s a fine line in determining between the two schools of thought.

The watershed for Carrier’s theory may be from the 17th-century intellect Thomas Hobbes explained humans in this way prior to the development of civil society as “[in their] natural condition” as well as “nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes’ thinking corroborates Carrier’s findings that violence is inbred into our species, ingrained into our minds and bodies.  

Sociobiology and sociobiologists which emerged in the 1970’s specifically argued that behaviors, not just physical characteristics, can be shaped by natural selection.  This deems violence may be genetically determined.  However, the debate of this matter has been a passionate one from both sides.  It’s a multi-layered debate and dives right into the core of our own perception of our self along with a desire for peace in the world.  

 

Napolean Chagnon who is sometimes referred to as America’s “most controversial anthropologist” is right at the crux of this issue.  Chagnon caused a major stir when he published a study observing the Yanomami people of Venezuela and Brazil, describing them as a “fierce people” who were in “a state of chronic warfare.”  His assertion was that the men in the Yanomami tribe who killed had more wives and as a result more offspring.  Which he felt was evidence supporting selection of violence in practice.

 

This was a major detour from the consensus at the time.  Every piece of Chagnon’s work across the board from method’s to conclusions were chided by anthropologists.  

David Adams, a neurophysiologist, and psychologist at Wesleyan University started to investigate the human brain’s mechanisms with underlying aggression, around the same period of time of Chagnon’s statement. He studied how different parts of the brain acted when engaged in an aggressive situation.  He created several lesions in mammalian brains and paired them with electro-stimulation in order to understand aggressive behavior. However, the public responded quite wildly to Adams’ findings “The mass media would take [our work] and interpret it like we’d found the basis for war,” he said. Sick and tired of how his results were interpreted by both the media and the public, Adams eventually completely changed his course.  

Adams brought together a group of 20 biologists, neuroscientists, and psychologists to create and distribute what is called the Seville Statement, which proclaimed “it is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behavior is genetically programmed into our human nature,” amongst other things.  UNESCO-an agency of the United Nations that promotes international collaboration and peace, adopted Seville Statement at some point.  UNESCO’s aim in doing so was an attempt to shake off the “biological pessimism” that had taken hold and make it clear that peace could be realistically achieved.  Unfortunately for UNSESCO and Adams, the media wasn’t interested, one news network said “This is not interesting for us,” referring to the Seville Statement.  The news network also said, “But when you do find the gene for war, call us back.”

The quote right there from the news network may be your answer if we are genetically inclined to violence or not-However, as far as both sides are concerned the battle wages on.  

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