Magazine article Science News

The Evolution of Family Homicide

Magazine article Science News

The Evolution of Family Homicide

Article excerpt

The evolution of family homicide

Evoluationary theories of social behavior -- sometimes lumped under the heading of sociobiology -- maintain that the appetites, aversions, motives, emotions and thinking patterns of humans, as well as other species, are shaped over the millennia to produce "nepotistic" social action. In other words, individual members of a species engage in typical actions to promote the survival and reproductive success of genetic relatives. Genetic relatedness is said to be linked to enhanced cooperation and reduced conflict between individuals.

How, then, do evolutionary theorists explain the tragic occurrence of murders within families? Recent statistical analyses of family homicides in the United States, Canada and elsewhere do, in fact, support evolutionary models of human behavior, say psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Most family homicides involve one spouse killing the other, usually fueled by male attempts to control female sexual and reproductive behavior, the researchers report in the Oct. 28 SCIENCE. In the savanna and tropical environments that fostered the nonindustrial societies typical of most of human evolution, male competition for fertile women and the guarding of mates served useful purposes, particularly to ensure accurate paternity, Daly and Wilson contend.

That behavioral tendency can go awry in modern society, however. Most North American spouse-killers say the husband's concern with his wife's fidelity or her intention to end the marriage led him to initiate the violence, the researchers note. "Men strive to control women by various means and with variable success, while women strive to resist coercion and maintain their choices," they say. "There is brinkmanship in any such contest, and homicides by spouses of either sex m ay be considered the slips in this dangerous game."

Evolultionary influences also contribute to parent-child murders, Daly and Wilson add. …

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