In a previous post – which can be found by clicking here – I had examined whether conflict was innate for humans after a lecture in University, which I concluded was true by analysing different theories but stressed that conflict only becomes active due to a stimulus. That stimulus could either be biological, seen in aggressive mating, or environmental, such as intraspecific/intrespecific competition. But a recent study, noticed by the BBC has put a spanner in the works, as the leading researcher – Patrik Soderberg – says that conflict isn’t actually innate.
Soderberg’s research based its findings by studying isolated tribes from numerous places around the world which had been studied over the last century. By using modern primitive isolated tribes they were able to have a sample which was cut off from the modern day life and utilising the wild plants and animals that inhibit their environment, surviving like the much older hunter-gatherers.
Ancient hunter-gatherer cave art.
Using these modern day tribes as an analogy for the earlier societies that ruled the lands, they assessed and analysed any violent deaths. They found that in their sample populations there were 148 violent deaths, but very few were caused by widespread war. Most of the violent deaths were caused by personal motives ranging from family feuds or adultery.
Soderberg has admitted that these modern tribes were not a ‘perfect model’ for the ancient civilisations but said that due to vast significant similarities they did allow for an insight into the past. From this study he concluded that war may have developed later as the hunter gathers became more agriculture orientated and territorial with a complex social structure. “As humans settled down, then war becomes more dominant and present. For these primitive societies, war has not yet entered the picture,”.
BBC. 2013. Primitive human society ‘not driven by war’. BBC News. Available here.
Soderberg, P., Fry, D. 2013. Latest Skirmish Over Ancestral Violence Strikes Blow for Peace. Science. 341, 6143. P224. Here is a link to view the .pdf of this very interesting article.
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.