Bones of Contention; is conflict hard wired in Humans?

After a very interesting and thought provoking lecture during my first year in University, I aimed to do some research into the question that was asked.

The answer to this very controversial question would be gathered from many different aspects of science and different theories. Then this theoretical framework would then help us understand whether conflict is innate or caused by stress within the environment or within a culture/race.

Neurological science argues that conflict is hard-wired within the human brain and can be triggered by an external stimulus. Studies have linked the brains secretion of numerous neurotransmitters such as testosterone and noradrenaline to higher levels of aggression within a certain culture.  Siegel (1999) found that the hypothalamus would play a critical part for the expression of aggression as well as the amygdala harboured the attack mechanism. Data also emerged that serotonergic mechanisms play an inhibitory role on the regulation of aggression which provided evidence that neurotransmitters such as serotonin have an effect on the levels of conflict and aggression.

Evolutionary theorists believe that humans are primary products of EEA (Environment of Evolutionary Adaption) and that it is innate as there is evidence of intraspecific conflict within human race to better the species. This behaviour is also evident in other species of animals such as wolves and chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are close DNA relatives to humans sharing 98% base sequences. Chimpanzees exhibit aggression and warfare within their community to exhort their dominance as alpha or simply display sexual superiority.  Muller and Wrangham (2002) found that aggression levels in male chimpanzees were high when the females were sexually receptive. They found that the males increased their aggressive behaviour, such as chasing and attacks by 24% when around females who were sexually available than those who were not.  Although other studies contradict this as Bonobos don’t have intraspecific conflict and have higher levels of co-operation. Bonobos are closer DNA relatives of humans, so this opens the dispute to whether conflict is innate for humans.

Archaeologists usually support the materialist theories where they believe War is irrational and only ever occurs under stress (such as environment where water is scarce) and conflict is an adaptive response to that external stimulus. Evidence has been found to support this in North America as there was no intraspecific conflict until a high stress environment occurred but however in Britain no such harsh factors have occurred yet there are still large amounts of anthropological evidence found of conflict.

I believe that conflict is innate within humans and other animals as conflicts arise at any time and a stimulus is always present. That stimulus could be biological (as aggression when mating) or environmental, as well as being an invading culture or race. But to spark the aggression within humans that stimulus must first be activated. Conflict has always been highlighted in our past. New archaeological evidence pops up everywhere and displays how aggression and conflict has progressed alongside our technology and intelligence, and I believe it will be present in our future.


Siegel, A. 1999. Neuropharmacology of brain-stimulation-evoked aggression. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 23,  3. p359-389.

Muller, M., Wrangham, R. 2002. Dominance, aggression and testosterone in wild chimpanzees: a test of the ‘challenge hypothesis’. Animal Behavior. 67, 1. p113 – 123.

2 thoughts on “Bones of Contention; is conflict hard wired in Humans?

  1. Hi! I’m not really an expert in this area so I don’t have anything academic to add except that this proves to be a very controversial topic. Especially since the hard-wired camp is pretty much tied also to Napoleon Chagnon in the Cultural/Sociobiology side. Dr. Brian Ferguson have said that it is a scary path as it entails that all conflicts in the world are “natural” because they are hardwired in us. It may justify the presence of war. But then again, it might not entirely be a justification. Especially, as you say, conflict needs an external stimulus (aside from the biological stimulus) to operate. It is a very worthwhile topic to delve into (albeit controversial) if we are to understand the conflict in the world and I am, personally, pretty much interested in how they work.

    – Kert from iamkert(tumblr) and spawnofanthro (wordpress)

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