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Human Aggression; Is It In The Genes? Honoring Father Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus University of Notre Dame James J. McKenna PhD Edmund P. Joyce.

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Presentation on theme: "Human Aggression; Is It In The Genes? Honoring Father Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus University of Notre Dame James J. McKenna PhD Edmund P. Joyce."— Presentation transcript:

1 Human Aggression; Is It In The Genes? Honoring Father Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus University of Notre Dame James J. McKenna PhD Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Chair in Anthropology Director, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory

2 Ethologist Konrad Lorenz wrote about human aggression this way : “ An unprejudiced observer from another planet looking upon man as he is today, in his hand the atom bomb, a product of his intelligence, in his heart the aggressive drive inherited from his anthropoid ancestors which their same intelligence cannot control, would not predict long life for the species.” (From: On Aggression(1969)

3 Human Aggression: Bio- Cultural Perspectives (is it in the genes?) “The sordid history of mankind attests well to the fantastic plurality of stimuli that can be cooked up to elicit aggression. But how natural is it”? Ralph Holloway (1968)

4 Does an answer to this question matter? YES! because of the danger of self-fulfilling prophecies

5 “..the behavior of men is not independent of the theories of human behavior that men adopt” Leon Eisenberg “The Nature of Human Nature” pg 165 (1972) Recall that…..

6 Also, “Pessimism about man serves to maintain the status quo”. Leon Eisenberg pg “The Nature of Human Nature”

7 is it in the genes? or environment? both/ neither? l recall…for “complex” organisms..like humans, genes produce potentiality--not certainty…of expression; l aggression adaptive? some? measured?…whether self-generated (by genes) or in response to experience, a rat fighting another rat on an electrified metal grill--to eliminate the pain..is adaptive, right?

8 What is Aggression?.. we surely know it when we see it “An animal acts aggressively when it inflicts, attempts to inflict, or threatens to inflict damage on another animal.The act is usually accompanied by recognizable behavioral symptoms and recognizable physiological changes.” Carthy and Ebling 1964

9 or..do we always know it when we see it ? l Perhaps amongst humans, aggression is not so easily defined, nor so immediately obvious..? –Socio-economic and political factors can be as injurious to physical and psycho-social health as violence can be to limbs and organs of the body

10 Consider the changes in levels of human lethality--made possible by high tech culture.. Weapons that kill…massively l the cultural evolution of “cides”….. from sui cide….to homi cide…taking of another’s life, to… geno cide….eliminating an entire group of people, to… eco cide…killing of an ecosystem…to omni cide…killing of everything or anything ( D.Barash…Sociobiology and Behavior)

11 About HUMAN Aggression? What does Mel Gibson’s “Brave Heart”..teach us…? l A rousing speech? exposure of genitals..to an enemy ? What ? A war is scripted..follows some rules…? l has social meaning ---full of symbols..and ritual as the motivating factors… l dress up for war? flags? pageantry? WHAT? l fighting for food, protection or..an idea or value (Scotland and freedom);? l technologically-based? Always fatal?

12 Anthropology: a holistic understanding (four lines of evidence): abuse and neglect Cross-cultural (*definitions are value driven) Cross-species Evolutionary Developmental (socialization) origins? functons? selective conditions? Aggression human

13 heterogeneity of aggression it is not a coherent or uniform behavior and it has many causes Intra-specific Aggression vs. Inter-specific Aggression within species- within group competition for food, resources, mates, allies, status protective responses defensive of territory Predatory behavior Protection from predators; defense of young aggression associated with niche partitioning

14 Sociobiological View of Aggression? D.Barash “Rather than consider human beings to be either innately aggressive or innately non-aggressive,a socio-biological view suggests that we have been selected to behave aggressively under some conditions and non-aggressively under others, depending upon the consequences of such aggressiveness or non-agressiveness for our evolutionary success…Aggressive behavior that is adaptive behavior under one condition may be mal adaptive under others;

15 Animal Aggression vs..human aggression controlled by? l Dominance or social hierarchies “….the baboon’s policeman is his own biology”? l Social institutions…social values.. i.e.ethical judgments enforced by laws, police, jails, prisons, courts…a uniquely human response… l humans substitute cultural rules for biological imperatives…

16 setting up the issue….a little history

17 Any evidence? For Evolutionary Antecedents? l Primate wide-trends of affiliation and social cooperation (Sussman, Garber and Cheverud)

18 A major basis of maternal-infant attachment is “contact-comfort” (rather than satiation)… Harry Harlow “Attachment”: Unfolding, discriminating bond between parent and infant; genetically- based….. Immediate survival and protection from predators is main outcome;

19 Maternal behavior among primates extends throughout an extremely long infant and juvenile period, with prolonged periods of physical contact. Orang-Utan

20 repair the damage caused by conflict? or protecting cooperation and affiliative relationships?

21 Cooperation or Aggression in Human Evolution? It all began 3-4 million years ago…The Hominine Niche l Emergence of empathy..mind reading..Food sharing/bipedalism, infant vulnerability… l Tool use: dependence, knowledge, skills, communication skills (verbal,non verbal) l Daddy transport and care (Gettler 2009; omnivory, reduced gut mass l Lack of clear material record for substantial division of labor until recently! (loss of estrous,too) l Importance of social knowedge;

22 What is unique (and scary) about human aggression…? l that the technology of violence makes it so easy to be so massively lethal--and deadly, and removed physically and psychologically from the violent act-- from the appeasement and subordination of the victim… l capacity to “hate” and de-humanize the enemy-- without knowing who the enemy actually is, personally l and to objectify and to make abstractions out of the enemy…which makes violence easy and justified.

23 Process of Enemy Formation: It’s Universal l First, de-humanize by depicting them graphically/artistically as sub-human, without human emotions an sensitivities like insects, snakes, varmin l depict as vermin, vile, dangerous and threatening.. l Use familiar, revered symbols and icons to depict their potential for inhumane acts.. l Unite population over perceived threat--the importance of acting together (socially marks own cultural and ethnic group) l Learn to think of the enemy as an abstraction, not persons..

24 Where Aggression Comes From: Developmental Factors l Socio-cultural values intrinsic to the home and local culture? –Semai vs. Yanomamo peoples; » familial-parental reinforcement- socialization.. sex role modeling etc etc.; –Infant-child relational experiences (affection, love, acquiring and being given self-worth, breast feeding, affectionate contact (high and low contact..emergence of empathy, attunement, conscience)

25 Variable Simple Hunter-GatherersComplex Hunter-Gatherers Primary foodTerrestrial gameMarine resources or plants Food storageVery rareTypical MobilityNomadic or Semi-nomadicSettled or mostly settled PopulationLow population densitiesHigher population densities Political system “Egalitarian”Hierarchical with classes based on wealth or heredity Social structureAbsence of social segments Lineages in some cases SlaveryAbsentFrequent CompetitionDiscouragedEncouraged WarfareRareVariable/Common From D. Fry, (35 societies in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample )

26 Specific Developmental Ideas About Origins l “Frustration-aggression hypothesis (continuous thwarting of one’s goals leads to violence, Dollard et.al; l family abuse and neglect including sexual and physical violence; l male sexual jealousy and envy; l learn to fight by fighting, learn to win by winning (rat studies); l fighting in response to pain..

27 Child abuse is passed from one generation to another..learned!!

28 “Human beings are unique among primates, however, in that we experience prolonged material ownership. This custom creates long lasting grudges and persistent personal violence.” (Barash 1987) Material envy ?

29 Humans are alone in our will, desire and capability to force another culture to convert to a different practice…religious or political? the negative side of moral beliefs and ideologies

30 Proximate Causes/Motivations Likewise Are Heterogeneous l Pain-induced..(tumor on amygdala) l Parental (protective) aggression l Kin-based aggression l Hypoglycemic responses l Hunger-induced, chemical imbalance There appears no singular motivation, hence, no singular gene underlying each kind of aggressive act

31 What does it mean to say that aggression is actually based on genes… how and why can aggression actually …evolve Answer: it must increase the reproductive success of the actor…

32 An Evolutionary Point of View: Lorenz l Proposes an independent “appetitive” drive--to be aggressive i.e. “ the spontaneity of aggression hypothesis..”; l argues for the inherent adaptive value of an “aggressive drive”...defend territory, protect resources, increase access to mates (status).. l underlies human cultural life..can be re- directed by international sports events

33 Lorenz and the “Hydraulic Model of Aggression” l An unlearned need to release energy in the form of aggression, in some form, expressed either directly, or through vicarious participation in ceremonies and/or sport rituals… l The longer the interval between the “consumatory aggressive act”.. the lower the stimuli threshold becomes needed to set off the behavior...and the more likely will the person actively seek out the releasing stimuli to restore balance i.e. the hydraulic aspect…

34 a universal independent motivation for aggression ? about which Robert Hinde writes: “….ethologists need not fabricate a general model of ‘drive’, but rather what is needed is to document individual cases and variability as to how and under what circumstances different types of aggression occur.”

35 Ethologists such as Lorenz, Tinbergen, Eibl-Eibesfeldt... l studied fighting fish, gamecocks, bull fights, cichlids, geese, ducks….not primates; l adopted a mechanistic-gene based view of aggression..less mutable and organized around reproductive fitness models…drives/strategies (primary and otherwise)

36 Contemporary Views of Aggression l more holistic and transactional in theory and explanation…both proximate and ultimate explanations--- l acknowledges underlying physiology, hormonal status (prolactins, androgens, testosterone, estrogens, neuro-transmitters (seratonin) affect excitability and mood in general…without defining what behavior will be expressed.. l The role of experience and socialization..enemy formation models

37 role of the cortex (discriminating- evaluating) part of brain ? does the biology of aggression accommodate ? or cause ? the aggression?

38 Does Affection and Touch In Infancy Reduce Adult Aggression? l Dr. James H. Prescott (developmental neuropsychologist) –Principle cause of human violence stems from a lack of bodily pleasure –“I am convinced that various abnormal social and emotional behaviors resulting from what psychologists call “maternal deprivation”, that is, a lack of tender, loving care, are caused by a unique type of sensory deprivation, somato- sensory deprivation… ” (sensations of touch and body movement, especially)

39 Let’s examine…anthropologically western infant care practices in relationship to human infant needs and conditions..is there a mismatch ? Do we promote empathy..through closeness…

40 Contemporary Views of Aggression and Warfare l models recognize huge differences between institutional, state, and nationally-sponsored or sanctioned aggression, from forms of aggression committed by individuals.. l explanations of forms of more global human aggression tend to separate these defined nationalistic/political/religious motivations (especially nation/state warfare) avoid biological explanations...

41 The Good News l Human beings have a tremendous capacity to identify with the ”other” » To transcend sense of danger for one’s self in the sight of another in peril..to lose one’s self completely and become the other.. » The hero/heroine loses his or herself for the sake of others...

42 Why Do Such Relatively Tiny Numbers of Aggressive Acts Seem So Huge and Overwhelming? l Because peacefulness and positive interactions and social cohesiveness are so critically valued universally and important to reproductive success… l Because It is not as important to notice the billions upon billions of daily proactive acts of sacrifice, kindness and positive social behaviors and interactions---it is expected and “normal”.. l It is precisely because our evolution including the emergence of cultural life depends on co-operation and social inter- dependence that it is the opposite --aggression--is which threatens co-operation.. is so unacceptable…and why aggression is so salient!

43 Competition and Rivalry (YES)Hatred and Violence (No) there is a Lake in Massachusetts.. on the Connecticut border (named by the Mohegans.. Lake Charbunagungamaug.. You fish on your side, I fish on my side, nobody fish in the middle, no trouble.. David Barash story..(1987)

44 Another Way To View..”On Aggression” “ We are threatened more by the genetic traits we lack than by those we possess” “We lack genetically mediated killing inhibitions because natural selection did not have much reason to endow us with any” Barash (1987)

45 Love actually is..all around

46 Human Aggression; Is It In The Genes? Honoring Father Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus University of Notre Dame James J. McKenna PhD Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Endowed Chair in Anthropology Director, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory


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