Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Adaptive Function of Aggression

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1597-1



The psychological mechanisms that govern aggression – a violent or hostile action toward another – may have evolved as solutions to a number of recurring adaptive problems faced by our ancestors.


From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, the origin of aggression cannot be explained by one exclusive hypothesis. Instead, aggression might be an evolved solution to several adaptive problems (Buss and Shackelford 1997). Resource protection and acquisition, intrasexual rivals, status negotiations, and partner sexual infidelity all stand out as possible adaptive problems that gave rise to aggression as a solution.

Resource Control

Aggressive behavior, from an adaptive point of view, is beneficial if it improves the probability of survival and reproduction. Victims of physical attacks risk death, injury, harm to mates and offspring, loss of resources, and status. Aggression against attacking enemies would be an adaptive solution to...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bernhardt, P. C., Dabbs, J. M., Jr., Fielden, J. A., & Lutter, C. D. (1998). Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans at sporting events. Physiology & Behavior, 65(1), 59–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Buss, D. M. (1999). Evolutionary psychology: The new science of the mind (5th ed.). New York: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  3. Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Human aggression in evolutionary psychological perspective. Clinical Psychology Review, 17(6), 605–619.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Carré, J. M., & McCormick, C. M. (2008). In your face: Facial metrics predict aggressive behaviour in the laboratory and in varsity and professional hockey players. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1651), 2651–2656.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Daly, M., Wilson, M., & Weghorst, S. J. (1982). Male sexual jealousy. Ethology and Sociobiology, 3(1), 11–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., Gangestad, S. W., Perea, E. F., Shapiro, J. R., & Kenrick, D. T. (2009). Aggress to impress: Hostility as an evolved context-dependent strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 980–994.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Maner, J. K., Miller, S. L., Schmidt, N. B., & Eckel, L. A. (2008). Submitting to defeat: Social anxiety, dominance threat, and decrements in testosterone. Psychological Science, 19(8), 764–768.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Sivarajasingam, V., Moore, S., & Shepherd, J. P. (2005). Winning, losing, and violence. Injury Prevention : Journal of the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention, 11(2), 69–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Stanton, S. J., Beehner, J. C., Saini, E. K., Kuhn, C. M., & Labar, K. S. (2009). Dominance, politics, and physiology: Voters’ testosterone changes on the night of the 2008 United States presidential election. PLoS One, 4(10), e7543.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Stirrat, M., & Perrett, D. I. (2010). Valid facial cues to cooperation and trust: Male facial width and trustworthiness. Psychological Science, 21(3), 349–354.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPennsylvania State University, BeaverMonacaUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Glenn Scheyd
    • 1
  1. 1.Nova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA