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Fascination violence: on mind and brain of man hunters

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Why are savagery and violence so omnipresent among humans? We suggest that hunting behaviour is fascinating and attractive, a desire that makes temporary deprivation from physical needs, pain, sweat, blood and, ultimately, the willingness to kill tolerable and even appetitive. Evolutionary development into the “perversion” of the urge to hunt humans, that is to say the transfer of this hunt to members of one’s own species, has been nurtured by the resultant advantage of personal and social power and dominance. While a breakdown of the inhibition towards intra-specific killing would endanger any animal species, controlled inhibition was enabled in humans in that higher regulatory systems, such as frontal lobe-based executive functions, prevent the involuntary derailment of hunting behaviour. If this control—such as in child soldiers for example—is not learnt, then brutality towards humans remains fascinating and appealing. Blood must flow in order to kill. It is hence an appetitive cue as is the struggling of the victim. Hunting for men, more rarely for women, is fascinating and emotionally arousing with the parallel release of testosterone, serotonin and endorphins, which can produce feelings of euphoria and alleviate pain. Bonding and social rites (e.g. initiation) set up the constraints for both hunting and violent disputes. Children learn which conditions legitimate aggressive behaviour and which not. Big game hunting as well as attack of other communities is more successful in groups—men also perceive it as more pleasurable. This may explain the fascination with gladiatorial combat, violent computer games but as well ritualized forms like football.

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We thank Iris Kolassa, Frank Neuner, Brigitte Rockstroh Martina Ruf, Susanne Schaal and Elisabeth Schauer for comments on earlier versions of this paper. Research was supported by the DFG and the NGO vivo.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Thomas Elbert.

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Elbert, T., Weierstall, R. & Schauer, M. Fascination violence: on mind and brain of man hunters. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 260 (Suppl 2), 100–105 (2010).

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