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Int J Law Psychiatry. 2009 Jul-Aug;32(4):202-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.04.001. Epub 2009 May 2.

The nature of human aggression.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 3TQ, UK.


Human aggression is viewed from four explanatory perspectives, derived from the ethological tradition. The first consists of its adaptive value, which can be seen throughout the animal kingdom, involving resource competition and protection of the self and offspring, which has been viewed from a cost-benefit perspective. The second concerns the phylogenetic origin of aggression, which in humans involves brain mechanisms that are associated with anger and inhibition, the emotional expression of anger, and how aggressive actions are manifest. The third concerns the origin of aggression in development and its subsequent modification through experience. An evolutionary approach to development yields conclusions that are contrary to the influential social learning perspective, notably that physical aggression occurs early in life, and its subsequent development is characterized by learned inhibition. The fourth explanation concerns the motivational mechanisms controlling aggression: approached from an evolutionary background, these mechanisms range from the inflexible reflex-like responses to those incorporating rational decision-making.

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