When violence pays: A cost-benefit analysis of aggressive behavior in animals and humans

Alexander V. Georgiev, Amanda C.E. Klimczuk, Daniel M. Traficonte, Dario Maestripieri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


An optimization analysis of human behavior from a comparative perspective can improve our understanding of the adaptiveness of human nature. Intra-specific competition for resources provides the main selective pressure for the evolution of violent aggression toward conspecifics, and variation in the fitness benefits and costs of aggression can account for inter-specific and inter-individual differences in aggressiveness. When aggression reflects competition for resources, its benefits vary in relation to the characteristics of the resources (their intrinsic value, abundance, spatial distribution, and controllability) while its costs vary in relation to the characteristics of organisms and how they fight (which, in turn, affects the extent to which aggression entails risk of physical injury or death, energetic depletion, exposure to predation, psychological and physiological stress, or damage to social relationships). Humans are a highly aggressive species in comparison to other animals, probably as a result of an unusually high benefit-to-cost ratio for intra-specific aggression. This conclusion is supported by frequent and widespread occurrence of male-male coalitionary killing and by male-female sexual coercion. Sex differences in violent aggression in humans and other species probably evolved by sexual selection and reflect different optimal competitive strategies for males and females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)678-699
Number of pages22
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Competition
  • Evolution
  • Optimization
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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