Chimp Study: Assault Aids Procreation?

Mean chimps

Mean chimps

Violence against women may aid procreation?

Some evolutionary psychologists actually think so.

After all, mean male chimps sire more offspring than their friendlier brothers, an Arizona State study finds

The vicious chimps charge against females, rip out their hair, kick, slap or beat them. Which parallels human stalking and domestic violence.

University of Michigan–Flint professor, William McKibbin, says:

The findings may provide fodder for a long-standing debate in evolutionary biology about whether rape and sexual aggression are evolutionarily advantageous in humans.


Good thing we aren’t chimps

One species seemingly has a little procreative success with violence and now evolutionary biologists are going ape?

Meanwhile, nearly all other species reproduce just fine without assault.

Well, okay, chimpanzees are the closest relatives to humans.

Our close relative, the bonobo.

Our close relative, the bonobo.

Except for bonobos.

Which are female dominant!

Using primate data we could also say, “No wonder human societies have usually been female dominant — just look at our closest relative, the bonobo.”

Oddly, Gilby suggests the attacks may be adaptive in allowing undesirable males to pass on their genes.

But isn’t evolutionary biology founded on the notion that nature works to pass on the BEST genes?

Besides, chimps mate with multiple males anyway, he admits.

So much for that theory.

Maybe the mean guys sire more babies just because they’re better at intimidating other males, and not because they harm females.

You behave like an animal

Importantly, humans branched off from chimpanzees at least 7 million years ago and — fortunately — most men aren’t brutal.

Biologist, Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany adds:

We’re so closely related genetically, yet our behavior is so different.

And would cruel behavior aid in spreading human genes? When mothers are traumatized? And when violent men often brutalize children, too?

Ryan Gosling, feminist and all around good guy.  He'd make some pretty babies.

Ryan Gosling, feminist and all around good guy.
He’d make some pretty babies.

Actually, Prof. McKibbin says,

No human studies have ever found that rape increases reproductive success.

Besides, you don’t find violence against women in all cultures. It correlates with patriarchy. The more patriarchy, the more rape and battering. The less patriarchy the less violence against women and girls.

And the further we go up the evolutionary ladder, the less we are ruled by instinct, anyway — and the more we are able to think and make choices.

Including moral choices.

And we don’t have to behave like animals.

The study was published in the journal, Current Biology.

Critiques of evolutionary psychology:

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 21, 2014, in feminism, men, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sex and sexuality, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. William McKibbin

    Hi Georgia, I came across this blog post while, ahem, googling my name (a habit many academics are prone to, I suspect.) As an evolutionary psychologist, I disagree with you on many points in this post. However, I do not find it productive to engage in an online argument. I doubt very much any minds will be changed in that manner. What I *did* wish to do was clarify my point from the article. The writer summarized my answer in a way that really does not reflect my response. I’ve copied my full response to the Live Science writer below (I can substantiate this if requested.):

    Question: “Do these findings in chimps shed any light on our understanding of why some human males are sexually aggressive? If so, how so, and if not, why not?”

    My Response: “The authors of this article very clearly (and probably deliberately) did not refer to human behavior, or what implications these data have for sexual coercion in human males. But I think the implication is clear. It is appropriate to be cautious about applying to humans findings from non-human animals. That being said, there is a long-standing argument in the evolutionary behavioral sciences about whether rape in humans results from adaptations specifically to rape, or is the byproduct of other adaptations. If rape is indeed the result of adaptations evolved through natural selection, it must have increased the likelihood of reproduction for ancestral males. To date, no one to my knowledge has provided direct evidence of such a benefit in humans. (At best we have one paper [Gottschall & Gottschall, 2003] showing that conception rates following a rape are approximately double that for consensual intercourse. But this could be for many reasons.) This new manuscript provides compelling evidence of such a benefit in one of our closest genetic relatives and should be taken into account in future debate on this topic.”

    I certainly did not say that “No human studies have ever found that rape increases reproductive success.”

    So there is in fact at least limited, indirect evidence. (Gottschall & Gottschall, 2003 is fascinating reading, btw.) As I’m sure you can appreciate, getting the kind of data one would need to directly test this hypothesis is incredibly challenging at best, and fraught with important ethical considerations. Thus the continued debate amongst evolutionary scholars.

    So to wrap up this comment, while the Live Science author has twisted my words to seem critical of the article, I in fact find it an important contribution to this literature. Thanks for your time and attention.

    • I’ll assume that you are who you say you are and that this is a more accurate description of your perspective. Here are my thoughts:

      You don’t find rape in every culture, it correlates with patriarchy. If rape aided reproduction — more specifically the ability to be born, survive to adulthood, and reproduce yourself — wouldn’t you would find it everywhere, regardless of the degree of patriarchy?

      Plus, the motivation behind rape is a desire to feel a sense of power, Whether to bolster a sense of empowerment that is felt to be lacking or because the rapist “needs” to feel powerful to get sexually aroused. (Which helps to explain the correlation between rape and patriarchy.)

      Just because a female of some species may be twice as likely to conceive after rape (and some species that are extremely close to humans, like bonobos and chimps, are very different from each other, let alone different from humans), that doesn’t mean that a human child who was conceived as a result of rape would be more likely to survive and reproduce compared to children who were conceived in a context of love (or at least non-hostility) and support — including financial resources, and less stressed mothers.

      The emotional trauma on human women from rape could have a much more negative effect on a child compared with whatever psychological fallout a primate may be burdened with as a result of this same act.

      Finally, when you really don’t have good evidence that rape aids procreation, the sorts of conclusions evolutionary psychologists come to — like the one you describe — have the potential to be dangerous because some people will interpret rape as positive — as I have heard some people actually do. At the least, it is emotionally damaging for a woman who has endured a rape (and women who have not) to be subjected to these flimsy theories.

  2. It is important to note that animal studies, which can be very informative, don’t always indicate more about human nature and behavior. As you mentioned in the article, “we don’t have to behave like animals,” and often we don’t do so. Morality is a complex topic, but at a basic level, it involves the ability to choose actions. This can take place in circumstances when the moral choice may not be the most self-serving choice that would bring the most self benefit.

    In regards to sexual violence, a man could choose to assault a woman. However, because of our modern laws and concepts of what is right and wrong, people in society would take steps to ensure this does not happen again. Depending on the specific society, this could take the form of a prison sentence, social isolation, even killing in retribution, or other preventative steps in order to reduce the chance of this occurring once again. People in society can agree that sexually assaulting a woman is not okay, because of a shared sense of morality. It’s actually incredible that humans are able to collectively agree on certain issues so strongly. Whether this is because of biology, spirituality, or some other force, humans with incredible differences can still agree on specific issues. It’s become a modern social contract that women deserve consent and choice, but the degree of which vastly varies depending on the specific culture and people.

    • I think it’s widely agreed-upon because most people — even very young children — tend to base their morality on a standard of harm. If someone is being harmed (and it’s not self-defense) It’s wrong.

  3. I’ve never found the “women like bad boys” theory to be true. Not anymore true than i’ve seen guys chasing after “bad girl.” I have often noticed that men see good looking guys as “bad boys” and perceive boring or awkward guys as “nice guys.”

    My fiance for example is someone guys would perceive as the “jerk” type. I actually had a lot of dudes say that about him when we first started dating. In reality he’s the most kind, sweet, and caring person I have ever met. Not only about me but he genuinely cares about the people around him. He’s an attractive guy, dresses nice, has an athletic built and makes sarcastic jokes a lot so some guys see him as the “jerk type”. On the other hand the type of guys who often claim to be nice guys or look like the type of nice guys we see in movies are complete jerks.

    • Yeah, when you look around most women are with nice guys. All of my women friends are married to nice men, as am I. And romantic comedies are typically about nice man — and plenty of women flock to these. And yet the stereotype is stubborn.

  4. “After all, mean male chimps sire more offspring than their friendlier brothers, an Arizona State study finds.”

    We see the same behavior with inner city Black males, even those who are violent criminals. They tend to have far more kids than other Black men.

    • It’s common that lower classes have higher fertility rates. When people don’t have goals and hopes in life, there is no reason to make an effort to prevent pregnancy so that you can go to school and become a business manager, or whatever. The lower classes also tend to be more violent. Often because men are told that their gender is supposed to be powerful, And yet they aren’t in real life. And so they do things to feel powerful, like protect territory they don’t own, or beat and kill other people — giving them power over other lives. You find this pattern of young male gang activity with every ethnic minority in United States, At least since the Irish.

      So you have to be careful with correlations. Correlations are not always causal. Something else might be affecting both A and B.

  5. I have yet to come across a study authored by an evolutionary psychologist that didn’t read like a Just So Story draped in scientific terminology and relying on a highly limited perspective of human agency.

    • @Alice,

      Did you ever read, “Sex at Dawn” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha? If not, you should. A lot of the scholarly pieces by such authors as Buss, Meston, Schmitt, Shacklflord, Bateman, Trivers, etc are not “Just So Story.”

      I am not a big believer in evo psych. But, I do believe SOME of there beliefs do hold water. Just as some aspects of Marxism are valid as unpleasant as that might be. Truth is truth!

  6. I believe that violence is learned, passed down, and conditioning. I don’t think for the most part that is inherent to our nature. Thank goodness!! And not sure how violence can aid procreation- I certainly would less likely want to procreate w/ someone like that.

    • Yeah, in must be learned since you don’t find violence against women in all cultures.

      And even in more violent cultures most men are not brutal. If this theory were right, and violence were the best way by which to reproduce, then most men would be violent. But they’re not.

    • But there are actual studies that clearly show women are MORE attracted to dangerous and more masculine men for sex. This has also shown to be even more so during ovulation.
      The most extreme example of this behavior is the young woman (24 yrs old) getting married to Charles Manson. Or the convicted parent killers Menendez brothers getting wedding proposals. Yes, it is an extreme case. However, such is very rare to unheard of for men.

      • Not really.

        I’ve never seen a study showing that women, generally, want to have sex with dangerous men over non-dangerous men. The fact that one woman wants to marry Charles Manson does not mean that most women would want sex with him. Eeeewwww — YUCK!

        There have been studies that lead to confusion, though, so that a lot of people think that what you say has been proven but:

        Women prefer more masculine men for sex? In these studies masculine is often defined as “chiseled features” yet:

        . The less patriarchal the society, the more women prefer a more feminine looking face. Most women would take Leonardo DiCaprio over the more masculine Arnold Schwarzenegger
        . A study using Tinder found women rejecting chiseled features over men with a “baby face” because the latter looked nicer

        Studies that say women prefer dangerous men are based on women’s fantasies, not reality.

        And even then it’s not all women. And it’s not so much that the guys are dangerous as that the guys in her fantasy find her irresistible.

        And in their fantasies they aren’t actually dangerous — Women are in no danger.

        Move into reality and things get very different. For example, one woman had fantasies about a waiter forcing himself on her in the ladies room. Some of her friends paid a waiter to make this dream come true. When the woman ended up in the bathroom with the guy, she wanted out, and would not go through with it.

        Because of where the “danger” part of the brain is located — close to a “sexual arousal” part, both men and women can find danger arousing. In one study men met a woman either after walking across a dangerous bridge or before. Those who met her after walking across the bridge found her more attractive.

        And so you do sometimes see a connection between danger and arousal. But the example I just gave doesn’t fit with the chimp study at all.

        And again, for women this has to do with fantasy. In reality, Women often can’t open up and get into sex unless they feel safe.

        One other problem is that some of the studies are done with measures of how much women lubricate — and that’s called “arousal.” But women seem to lubricate over fear — whether they FEEL aroused or not. The lubrication seems to be a protection of women’s bodies against the harm that would otherwise be caused by sexual assault.

      • “And in their fantasies they aren’t actually dangerous — Women are in no danger.”

        Correct, I will agree.

        What I am saying is they are perceived as a bit dangerous but not ACTUALLY be dangerous to her. Women do have to trust a man that he will do no harm to her. He must be safe as you indicated.

  7. I am sure there are lots of men besides Ryan Gosling who can make some pretty babies. Again, women seem to all want babies or have sex with just a few men. Sigh..

    • There are plenty of men besides Ryan Gosling who could make some pretty babies, But I can’t put all of their pictures up. Just trying to make a point that women often like nice guys, like him. I’ll be writing more about this later.

      Men and women both tend to prefer the most attractive people — according to conventional notions. But luckily, tastes vary. And nearly everyone eventually marries. So it’s not so dire as you make it sound.

  8. Very, very interesting. I wonder if that’s why most young women are attracted to the “bad boys” or “tough guys” initially in the dating scene. It doesn’t seem until later do we realize these men are NOT the ones we want to end up with so we begin to make DIFFERENT, Better choices.

    • Well, using primate data you could also say, “No wonder human societies have usually been female dominant” — just look at our closest relative, the bonobo.

      In fact, thanks for your question because I just added that point to the piece, above.

      We tend to use animal studies to explain things but we are completely inconsistent — picking and choosing.

      I actually don’t think that most young women are attracted to bad boys and tough guys initially. And I’m planning to write about this sometime. Some are. And they usually get over it as they grow up, as you say.

      But when they do it confirms the stereotype — so we notice it more. “Yup, look at that.”

      And sometimes it’s just confusing. I remember in high school wanting the popular guys to notice me and be attracted to me. And the jocks did somewhat resemble chimpanzees. But I was always attracted to nice guys, Didn’t want actual relationships with bad boys — just their attention because that could give me a sense of status during adolescence when you are trying to figure out who you are, and not necessarily relying on the most reliable sources to figure that out.

      • “I actually don’t think that most young women are attracted to bad boys and tough guys initially. And I’m planning to write about this sometime. Some are. And they usually get over it as they grow up, as you say.”

        This is a piece from GMP. The author is a woman. What she asserts is at odds with what you are saying. In fact, I would argue that she is right. This is why so many men feel the way we do about this.

        The bottom line is the nice men did not resemble chimpanzees and were viewed as less attractive. Hence, the nice men were (and are) less desirable. Eventually, the nice man who does not resemble a chimpanzee is chosen. Eventually. As the author of the GMP says, “eventually.” However, I scoff at the idea that the nice man is truly as desirable as the “other.” Nor will the nice man be treated as well as the bad boy(s), especially as far as sex is concerned.

      • I said most women, not all women. Women have written on my blog with a variety of perspectives. But the thing is, plenty of women are attracted to nice guys. In addition to Ryan Gosling you got George Clooney, Brad Pitt who both seem to be nice, Gentle people who care about the world. And if girls like bad boys so much why don’t they line up to see the badass action heroes. Instead they line up to watch Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle.

      • “In addition to Ryan Gosling you got George Clooney, Brad Pitt who both seem to be nice.”

        Again, you are proof of my point! Women like these men because they are good looking conventionally attractive, and “hot” guys.

        George Clooney is a serial womanizer. He only dates much younger women, which feminist women detest about older men. I think he just married a woman that was 20 years his junior….

        Also with Clooney, women love men who have had lots of sex with a lot of other women. I am convinced the more women a man has sex with, the more women who want to have sex with him. I guess practice does make perfect:)

      • Even if George Clooney prefers younger women and was a serial womanizer, until he recently married, he is still a nice guy. He’s not a brutal man who beats up women.

        I don’t know any women who are attracted to men who are brutal and beat them up. If you look at why women stay with these men they are usually on pins and needles trying to behave so that they aren’t hurt. And most eventually leave when they figure out that he’s not going to change.

        I also mentioned Tom Hanks. He’s a pretty average looking guy. And yet women have seen “sleepless in Seattle” over and over again. The relationship between him and Meg Ryan is a huge fantasy/turn on.

Thoughts? (Comments will appear after moderation)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: