The bell rang and the high school kids rushed out with vigour as if released from prison. As they were leaving their classrooms, boys and girls showed different kinds of behaviours.
While the girls walked slowly and with grace, boys could be seen doing a number of things such as kicking one another, tripping and hitting one another, taking things from one another, pushing and shoving one another, and chasing after one another.
In all cultures, men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence and aggression and their victims are mostly other men. Since a very young age, boys seem to show interest in all things associated with some form of violence such as guns, wrestling, martial arts, action heroes, violent video games, etc.
Many people falsely think that what makes men violent is the over-exposure to violent stuff such as violent video games. The truth is that men, on average, are inherently violent. As you’ll see soon, they have an evolutionary imperative to be so.
This is why they prefer violent stuff in the first place. Violent video game designers only satisfy an instinct that’s already there.
The evolutionary roots of male violence
Ever seen elephant seals mate? No? Well, why would you? I’m sure you’ve got better things to watch, given how ugly these animals are. Anyway, they can teach us a lot about the violent behaviour that’s seen in human males.
Elephant seals gather on a beach or a seashore during their mating season and lie there in all their ugliness, waiting for sex. The males engage in very violent fights- screaming and biting one another, till one of them (usually the largest and the strongest) dominates nearly all other males and gets to mate with all the females.
If a defeated male creeps back in to win copulation or two, the females raise an alarm and alert the alpha male which then scares off the rejected male.
In humans, intrasexual competition among the males throughout our evolutionary history has been quite similar to that seen in elephant seals.
Since human females invest more heavily in the offspring, they’re a valuable limiting resource on reproduction for males. Males are constrained in their reproduction by their ability to gain sexual access to high-investing females.
This sex difference in minimum obligatory parental investment means that males can produce more offspring than females can. This difference leads to a different reproductive variance in males and females. Reproductive variance simply means how varying your chances of reproduction are.
While most human females reproduce sooner or later (since they invest a lot and so are in demand), men can be totally denied a chance to pass on their genes. This is what is meant by ‘high reproductive variance’ of human males.
Consequences of a high reproductive variance
High reproductive variance in men leads to riskier strategies for securing reproduction. The males that take more risks are more likely to be reproductively successful. Due to this, some males gain more than their ‘fair share’ of copulations, while other males are shut out entirely (like defeated male elephant seals).
This leads to more ferocious competition within the high-variance sex. Polygyny, over evolutionary time, selects for risky strategies, including those that lead to violent combat with rivals and those that lead to increased risk-taking to acquire the resources needed to attract members of the high-investing sex.
This is why human males engage in a lot of violence with one another, even if it may have no direct bearing on their reproductive success in the given moment e.g. pre-pubescent boys wrestling with each other.
This evolutionarily important behaviour has to be practised since childhood just as boxers practice a lot before the actual fight. Passing on one’s genes is an important matter biologically speaking, and therefore our psychology is evolved to ensure that we practice behaviours that contribute to our reproductive success in the future.
Women, on the other hand, have nothing to gain by being violent but a lot to lose. Women need to place a higher value on their own lives than do men on theirs, given the fact that infants depend on maternal care more than on paternal care.
Women’s evolved psychology, therefore, should reflect greater fearfulness of situations that pose a physical threat of bodily injury and avoidance of such situations as much as possible.
Instead of violent physical aggression, women’s intrasexual competition manifests as gossiping, shunning the other person, spreading vicious rumours, breaking contact with the other person and befriending someone else.
Also, as children and teens, women prefer more nurturing behaviours such as feeding and grooming their dolls or looking after other infants in the family than playing with guns and action hero figures.
It’s all nothing but practice- the practice of evolutionarily important things to come in the future.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.