Forensic Pathology Reviews

Volume 2 of the series Forensic Pathology Reviews pp 189-204

Human Primitive Behavior

  • Achim Th. SchäferAffiliated withOffice of Medicolegal Assessment

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In dangerous, strenuous, or life-threatening situations, some behavioral patterns may occur that do not belong to the “normal” spectrum of human behavior. Among these are what is referred to here as “ sedimentation” (which may result in the finding of a feeble person or a deceased in topographically low-lying sections of buildings), as well as the phenomena of hiding and covering and undressing (a well-known phenomenon related to fatal hypothermia), and other behavioral elements of minor relevance like confusion, fumbling, and screaming. These behavioral peculiarities may lead to dubious findings at a death scene and may be mistaken for signs of a preceding crime by the unwary. Sometimes, circumstantial findings seem to indicate that a fight or a violent or sexual offense took place. However, a more thorough analysis of the scene often shows that the whole situation had been created by the deceased himself or herself prior to death without any third-party involvement. The aforementioned behavioral elements are termed “ primitive” here because at least some of them, like covering and hiding, seem to originate from early developmental stages of human instinctive behavior as a reaction pattern in response to danger and stress that also can be observed in animals. These behavioral patterns have their origin in phylogenetically old, autonomous parts of the brain. A good knowledge of the elements and patterns of human primitive behavior and the associated ways of acting is most helpful to all those involved in the death investigation because it often helps in the correct interpretation of curious death scene scenarios that otherwise would remain obscure or even enigmatic. Also, search and rescue teams will benefit from taking these behavioral patterns into consideration because they enable the development of improved search strategies for seeking missing persons.

Key Words

Primitive behavior human behavior hiding covering undressing confusion fumbling death scene investigation crime scene search and rescue