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Discuss evolutionary explanations of aggression based on
infidelity and jealousy
Evolutionary psychologists argue that reproductive challenges faced by our ancestors can
explain the aggressive behaviour seen in people today. A man can never be certain that he is
the father of his wife's children unless he prevents her having relationships with other men.
This can explain why male sexual jealousy is often cited as a cause of domestic violence.
According to Daley and Wilson (1988) men have evolved different strategies to deter
their partners from committing adultery ranging from vigilance (asking who they are talking to
on the phone, texting etc) to violence all fuelled by male jealousy and paternal uncertainty.
If a males partner is unfaithful and has a relationship with another man he runs the
risk of cuckoldry (unwittingly investing resources rearing children that are not his own). Males
sexual jealously may have therefore evolved to prevent infidelity by women and reduce the
risk of cuckoldry.
Buss (1998) argues that males have a number of strategies evolved specifically for
the purpose of keeping a mate. These include restricting their partners autonomy (direct
guarding) and negative inducements to prevent a female partner from straying (financial
control, threat of violence if unfaithful). As sexual jealousy is a primary cause of violence
against women those who are perceived by their partner to be threatening infidelity are more
at risk of violence than women who are not.
Support for this research comes from Wilson et al (1995) who found a link between
sexual jealousy, mate retention and violence. In a questionnaire, women who indicated their
partners were jealous and did not like them talking to other men were twice of likely to have
experienced violence from their partners.
Further support for the link between mate retention techniques and female directed
violence is shown in a study by Shackelford et al (2005). They studied 461 men and 560
women who were in committed heterosexual relationships the men answered questions
about their use of mate retention techniques and the women were asked about their partners
use of these techniques and how violent their partners was towards them. Shackleton found a
positive correlation between men who used mate retention techniques e.g. direct guarding
and their use of violence.
Issues with research into evolutionary explanations into aggression comes from the
use of surveys to collect data from participants which may be influenced by social desirability
bias this is where participants do not tell the truth as they wish to present themselves in a
more positive light, for example they may not want to tell a researcher their partner is violent
towards them as they feel it is degrading. As we cannot be sure that participants in both
Shackelford and Wilson's study did not present data in this way the results cannot be
generalised to other situations.
Shackelfordn's research also only provided a positive correlation between mate
retention techniques and violence against female partners therefore there may have been
(unknown) intervening variables that can explain why the covariables being studied are
linked therefore lacking ecological validity as we cannot prove a causal relationship
between the two factors.
An important implication of research such as Shackelford et al is that particular tactics
of male retention used by males can be an early indicator of violence against a female
partner. The findings from these studies can potentially used to alert friends and family to the
specific acts that can lead up to future violence in relationships and this point help can be
sought or offered before violence ever happens. Therefore this provides a positive outcome of
research into evolutionary aggression.
Aggression resulting in homicide can also be explained in evolutionary terms. One
factor that may lead to homicide is increased male to male competition a response that
occurs when there's a lack of resources or difficulty attracting long term mates. Wilson and
Daley analysed homicides in Detroit and found 43% of male perpetrators were unemployed
(lack of resources) and 73% were unmarried (lack of relationship).
Support for the evolutionary explanation of aggression comes from Daly and Wilson
who found the key motivator in homicides is sexual jealousy, 92% of murders occurring in
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The evolutionary view of homicide does not have much adaptive value, Duntley and
Buss state that once antihomicide defences begin to evolve homicide becomes far more of
a costly strategy to pursue (risk of repercussions) As a result of this, the evidence is
supported that homicide is an extreme form of aggression but not an adaptive response to
dealing with the problem in question.
However individual differences are a key factor in this nature of research.…read more