The Instinct of Survival 2

This research topic submitted by Brian Walker ( on 2/26/98.

Natural Systems 2: Human Nature Field Project
The Instinct of Survival
Aggression and Criminal Behavior
Brian Walker

My poster and research topic explores the origins and neurological aspects of
aggression and criminal violence. I will be focusing on a comparison of the biological
and sociobiological aspects of aggression. The first, relies on cause and effect
relationships which create the need for aggressive behavior. The second, uses adaptation
through evolution, and the instinctual nature of aggression to explain violence in humans.
There is one major point of similarity between these two spheres, which I would like to
quote beforehand. “Both sociobiologists and social scientists would agree that human
behavior rests on an interaction of environmental and genetic variables.” This is not,
however, to be confused with interactions between genetic variables and environment.
This idea is important because it provides a foundation for the origins of aggression, as
well as instinct. As a result, it can be maintained from both perspectives. I would also
like to note that the opinions I am using are general similarities between researchers in
each field. Rather than attempt to discuss all of them I just drew conclusions and
incorporated them together.
Biologists would tend to believe aggression is not instinctual. For our purposes,
instincts are those similar to involuntary desires, such as, eating, sleeping, and mating.
Aggressive behavior results from the constant threat of nature. This constant threat also
leads to the development of self-preservation abilities and a form of individualism, which
declares “every man for himself.” Eventually, basic logic and reasoning skills force
people together into communities.
This new intellect gives way to self-identification of groups or individuals, which
allows them to differentiate themselves from both other species, as well as other people
and groups. This would be done through competition and conquest, in order to
demonstrate power (another desire, I believe, inspired by self-identification). Inevitably,
inequalities arise, at least through the species perspective, between species and people.
This, in turn, allows for social environmental issues to surface among human groups.
Advancement in the species due to human ingenuity, begins to eliminate the
constant threat of nature. Obviously, at this point I am referring to some of the more
advanced cultures. A more permanent group mentality is formed and aggressive
tendencies, as well as other survival traits become somewhat dulled. This can be
attributed to the improving standard of living. At this point, aggression is replaced with
morality, rational thinking, and problem solving abilities. It was also at this point, that I
brought Robert Wright’s book The Moral Animal into my research. Wright follows along
with Darwinian theory, to some extent, in terms of the development of morality and a
conscience before the fall of uncontrolled aggression. More specifically, he mentions the
traits of sympathy and guilt as being intrinsic in the hindering of aggression.
It is accepted that some form of aggression is present in all humans, which is why
biologists would rather focus on “abnormal aggression” and “unacceptable violence.”
There are five areas of study into the causes of stimulation of aggressive behavior which
have been deemed “related” in some way. These are also some of the topics I will be
doing further study on through surveys and interviews. (1) The Bad Seed represents the
idea of a person born devoid of morality and innocence. It also deals with genetic trait
transmission between family members. (2) The Limbic System is a part of the brain to
which aggressive behavior has been traced. It specifically deals with the amygdala and
various ways it responds to input. (3) A number of criminals claimed they had received
head injuries, which knocked them unconscious, at some point in their lives. This is
believed to have had some affects on their behavior. (4) Aggressive stimulation has also
been related to chemical imbalances. (5) Sexual hormones, androgen, found in males,
and estrogen, in females, are believed to be important in controlling aggression, and, in
addition, relates to aggression in children.
Evidence of aggression in our genes is beyond our level of detection, if present at
all. However, it is believed by most biologists that activation of these unknown
aggressive traits results from social environmental problems and/or resulting in
physiological abnormalities prompting violence.
I will now discuss some of the sociobiological explanations of aggression, defined
here as more of an instinct. While some sociobiologists choose to explain aggression
through the concept of original sin, the inherently evil human, others take an evolutionary
approach. The latter is what I will discuss because original sin is a religious perspective
and not really relevant at this time.
Aggression is present in all species, and it is “instinctual behavior.” It is as
natural to humans, as eating and sex. Furthermore, it serves three purposes, undoubtedly
necessary instincts of survival. First, aggression is used to even distribution of animals in
a specific area. Second, it is used to select, and eliminate, candidates for breeding.
Third, aggression is used to select candidates for protection of the young. We even have
personal instinctual defenses in the form of adrenaline, related to anxiety, and
noradrenaline, which is closely related to aggression stimulation.
The stimulation of aggression can evidently be linked to the jeopardizing of main
values of animals, such as territory, food, and mates. From Darwinian theory we gather
that aggression is adopted from our predecessors, certain primate species. Humans,
unlike primates, are adaptive species. The fact that we have the ability to control our
aggression is evidence of our adaptation. Furthermore, values become more generalized
in humans. Points of importance, implying in need of protection, become specific to
each person or group.
Finally, sociobiologists theorize that aggression is spontaneous, but release of this
“innate” energy is necessary. Animals release through rituals, similar to those practiced
by various chimpanzee communities discussed in Jane Goodall’s, Through a Window.
Chapter ten reports of territory patrols and raids, certainly not premeditated, but rather
ritualistic and instinctual. Humans do not have rituals like hunting, mating, and
conquering to vent aggression. In fact, crime and neuroses are results of the repression of
aggression. However, the sociobiologists cure is competition. It not only vents
frustration and aggression, it also helps us to better recognize and control our aggressive

I hope to recover enough data to thoroughly explore both regions of this proposal.
Particularly, since both have very good support in some areas, while lacking in others.
Some of the implications of the research I have done so far seem somewhat pessimistic,
but so much of this field revolves around supposition of things which can not be tested
yet. I am merely interested at what my own findings will turn out to be like. I also
intend to incorporate gender issues, some population statistics reports, and possibly some
speculations as to where we are, should be, and will be in this area of study.


Siann, Gerda.
Accounting for Aggression.

Wright, Robert.
The Moral Animal.

Goodall, Jane.
Through a Window.

Goldman, George D.
Milman, Donald S.
Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Aggression.

Stoff, David M.
Cairns, Robert B.
Aggression and Violence.

Volavka, Jan
Neurobiology of Violence.

Greenhaven Press
Violence. Opposing Viewpoints.

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