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7) Evolutionary explanations of aggression

The evolutionary explanations say that aggression is driven by our need to reproduce with a suitable partner, when something such as infidelity or cuckoldry threatens this we act in an aggression manner. Daly and Wilson (1998) say that men have evolved different ways of trying to stop their female partners from committing adultery, and several of these are or can result in violence.

Cuckoldry – Men are at the risk of cuckoldry as we cannot be sure that they are raising and fathering our children or that of another man. From an evolutionary point of view this would be negative for a man as they would be investing their resources in a child who isn’t their own. So men have evolved to become jealous, ensuring there is as little chance as possible of cuckoldry.

Mate retention

This jealously will often manifest itself in a number of strategies that men use to keep a mate loyal. These include ‘direct guarding’ and ‘negative inducements’, both of which aim to prevent her from straying.

Direct guarding could be coming home from work early to check on the partner, or reading their texts. Wilson found that women who said their partners did use these tactics were twice as likely to suffer violence from that partner.

Negative inducement is where there male threatens the wife to warn her against infidelity. This could involve physical or verbal abuse. Dobash and Dobash found that in the majority of cases of physical abuse women say the attack was caused by extreme jealously on the partner’s part.


Uxorocide is wife-killing. Daly and Wilson said the killing of a partner could be the outcome of an evolutionary adaption that was designed to control the partner, rather than kill them. So actually the men don’t want to kill their wife, but they are so jealous that they take it too far in a fit of rage.


Research support – There is a great deal of research support for the evolutionary explanation. For instance Shackelford’s survey of 461 men and 560 women found that women who reported that their partners frequently used mate retention tactics were more likely to have suffered violent abuse from the partner. This supports the link between jealously, mate retention strategies and aggression.

Application to the real world – This explanation can help the women who might be in danger, because if friends and family can spot the mate retention strategies they can step in before violence or aggression might occur.

Opposing explanation of uxorocide – Duntley and Buss (2005) disagreed with Daly and Wilsons explanation that uxorocide is a mistake. They argued that infidelity represented a double loss for the male as not only did they lose a partner and a chance to reproduce, but a competitor gained a partner. So by killing the wife the man might lose a partner, but at least he stops a rival gaining one.


About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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