Aggression and human evolution discussed at campus lecture

Angela Braza

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The historical perspective of aggression and evolutionary theory was discussed during the first lecture in a series of evolution-themed talks hosted by CSUN’s Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Studies Network, held in the Whitsett Room Nov. 30.

During the presentation, “It’s Not All Sex and Violence: Human Aggression and Peacemaking in an Evolutionary Context,” Agustin Fuentes, anthropology professor at University of Notre Dame, dispelled commonly-held notions regarding aggression and evolution.

Speaking to an audience mainly consisting of students in the anthropology, biology and psychology departments, Fuentes discussed the inaccuracy in the societal perspective that violence and aggression have helped humans progress in history.

“Most people have a limited view on evolutionary theory,” he said. “People misunderstand what natural selection is. It’s not true that the biggest and the fastest live longer and that the weak die out.”

Fuentes, who studies and works with long-tailed macaques, compared humans and other primates to further explain human aggression.

Many people believe that as humans evolved, they obtained violent and aggressive traits from other primates. Though other primates take part in aggressive activities, particularly chimpanzees, inter-species violence resulting in death is extremely rare and not wide scale, he said. Humans today participate in violent acts resulting in death more so than any other species.

“War is not a part of our evolutionary heritage,” Fuentes said. “With early hominids, there’s very little proof of death at the hands of fellow man. Aggression, as humans exhibit, is not an inherently acquired trait.”

Fuentes also discussed the evolutionary roles of males and females. What makes humans different from other species is the extreme investment humans have taken in other people, he said.

“We have the most useless infants on the planet,” Fuentes said, as the presentation room filled with laughter. “Humans have really relied on multiple caretakers.”

Anthropology and gender and women’s studies major Kat Taylor, 19, was fascinated by this concept.

“It’s interesting because we truly are the only species that heavily depends on others from the moment of birth,” she said. “Though the years have gone by and people have further evolved, I feel as though we’re more dependent now than ever.”

Fuentes also stressed the importance of competition and cooperation in the evolutionary process. Peace, he said, is more typical than war, and peace—not violence—has pushed humans to be where they are today.

“If we think we’re naturally aggressive, it will affect the way we view the world,” Fuentes said. “It will change the way we treat others and what we expect in life.”

Biology major Jeremy Cortes, 18, agreed with Fuentes.

“From a societal standpoint it seems as if humans have progressed greatly because of war and fighting,” he said. “But as Dr. Fuentes says, it’s really due to cooperation and support of one another.”