Human Nature

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 5-29

First online:

Intergroup Aggression in Chimpanzees and War in Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers

Evaluating the Chimpanzee Model
  • Richard W. WranghamAffiliated withDepartment of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Peabody Museum Email author 
  • , Luke GlowackiAffiliated withDepartment of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

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Chimpanzee and hunter-gatherer intergroup aggression differ in important ways, including humans having the ability to form peaceful relationships and alliances among groups. This paper nevertheless evaluates the hypothesis that intergroup aggression evolved according to the same functional principles in the two species—selection favoring a tendency to kill members of neighboring groups when killing could be carried out safely. According to this idea chimpanzees and humans are equally risk-averse when fighting. When self-sacrificial war practices are found in humans, therefore, they result from cultural systems of reward, punishment, and coercion rather than evolved adaptations to greater risk-taking. To test this “chimpanzee model,” we review intergroup fighting in chimpanzees and nomadic hunter-gatherers living with other nomadic hunter-gatherers as neighbors. Whether humans have evolved specific psychological adaptations for war is unknown, but current evidence suggests that the chimpanzee model is an appropriate starting point for analyzing the biological and cultural evolution of warfare.


Lethal raiding Peace Imbalance-of-power Cultural war-risk hypothesis Parochial altruism