The First Kiss
Foundations of Conflict Resolution Research in Animals
Frans B. M. de Waal
Over the past half-century, aggression has occupied a pivotal role in debates about human nature. After World War II, aggression became a favorite theme because of Lorenz's (1967) hugely controversial book On Aggression. Lorenz's central thesis was that human aggression is an instinct, produced by an innate drive, hard or impossible to control, that seeks an outlet ranging from sports to gang violence. This Freudian message was amplified by popularizers such as Ardrey (1967) and Morris (1967) but countered by psychologists and anthropologists who demonstrated that aggression is learned (e.g., Bandura 1973) and questioned the universality of aggression in human society (e.g., Montagu 1968).
The premises of this debate were fundamentally flawed. It was tacitly assumed that demonstrating either a genetic or a learning component would settle the issue, whereas we now, of course, assume involvement of both influences in almost everything humans do (e.g., Manning 1989). Another serious weakness was the lack of attention to natural checks and balances on aggression: aggression was treated as a separate behavioral category isolated from other aspects of social life. This is all the more surprising as Lorenz himself emphasized the ritualization of aggressive displays in animals and how these displays, and the warning signals they contain, prevent bloodshed. In discussing such regulatory mechanisms, Lorenz exempted our own species perhaps because the world had just witnessed such horrible violence on its part. He speculated that since our ancestors had been peaceful vegetarians, our lineage might not have had the evolutionary time to adjust to the cultural development of deadly weapons: “One