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Dorian Furtuna Ph.D.


Male Aggression

Why are men more violent?

In almost every society, men are the ones who are overwhelmingly involved in wars, in all kinds of intergroup aggressions, and intragroup homicide. They mobilize themselves in armies of violent fans, in criminal gangs, and in bands of thugs.

These old observations have created a distinction between male and female sexes regarding their predisposition to violence. Wars are a biosocial product of men and a field for male’s manifestation [Goldstein, 2001]. The same thing is true of crime and cruelty, which are closely linked to masculinity.

Canadian evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, who specialize in studying the homicide phenomenon, have analyzed 35 homicide data sets from 14 countries, including some from primitive societies and some from different eras. Among these societies men committed homicide, on average, 26 times more frequently than women [Daly, Wilson, 1994]. Also, familicides (the killing of family members) are committed mostly by men. Some data have shown that men were involved in more than 90 percent of cases [Wilson, Daly, 1997, p. 160].

Men are also, in 70 percent of cases, the victims of homicides. In some societies, this percentage jumps to over 90 percent [Daly, Wilson, 1988; Berkowitz, 1993, p. 274, apud Buss, Duntley, 2002].

In the Russian Federation, in 1996, 86.6 percent of all serious crimes were committed by men. In the U.S., in 2004, 85 percent of total serious crimes were committed by men. Ninety-two percent of serial killers from the U.S. are men [1]. This statistical report is valid for most countries, regardless of their geographical location or size. In the Republic of Moldova, for example, about 90 percent of crimes are committed by men [2].

Let us analyze another dimension of violence – cruelty and animal abuse. One of the studies that approached this issue found the following male-to-female ratio, regarding violence to animals: beatings – 38 to 1, shooting – 16 to 1, torture – 20 to 1, burning – 17 to 1 [Gerbasi, 2004].

Why are men more aggressive than women? Several theories have been proposed, trying to explain this phenomenon, most of them being from social psychological theories. One of the most popular theories belongs to American social psychologist Leonard Berkowitz. According to him, men and women are educated, traditionally, to carry out different social roles. Berkowitz uses the following reasoning for his theory: Think of all the ways in which modern Western society teaches children that fighting is more suitable for men than women. Folk literature and the media constantly present men, and not women, fighting. Parents buy toy guns for boys and dolls for girls. Parents are more willing to endorse and encourage the aggressive behavior of boys, and not of girls. Again and again, directly and indirectly, minors learn that men are aggressive, and women are not [Berkowitz, 1993, p. 395].

The theory of “social roles” has created a new paradigm in gender policies and marks, even today, the ways in which many civic and preschool education strategies are developed. It is presumed that girls and boys shall be educated and treated alike, non-discriminatory, and even the behavioral differences between them will disappear. However, although it contains in itself a good dose of truth (boys and girls were, traditionally, part of a different education), Berkowitz’s theory about learned social roles was subject to several critics, who have shown its vulnerabilities.

First of all, it’s not the parents that impose behavioral styles on their children, but their reaction at the latter’s requests; toy guns are bought for boys and dolls for girls because these are usually the children’s preferences (in part genetically predetermined). And as parents respond to children’s preformed wishes, so does the media, offering content that corresponds to behavioral patterns that already exist on a social level [Hoyenga, Hoyenga, 1993].

Then Berkowitz’s theory mirrored the Western culture, but didn’t take into account the realities from other cultures (without cinema, literature, media, toy stores), where the behavioral patterns of boys still greatly differ from that of girls. It was noted, among other things, that homicides in North America (where it seems that the media fosters intense social roles) are marked by sex differences to a lesser degree than in many other societies [Daly, Wilson, 1989, p. 101-102, apud Buss, Duntley, 2002]. So it is not the imprinting of social roles that sits at the origin of men’s increased aggressiveness, but inner causes, determined by the nature of men.

Also important in this regard are the findings of social psychologists who have noted that the social emancipation of women in recent decades has barely influenced or enhanced the expressiveness of aggressive behavior in women, which is additional proof that the higher degree of masculine aggressiveness is, first of all, due to genetic factors. Sex differences predetermine, on a genetic level, the differences in aggressive behavior [Wilson, Herrnstein, 1985]. It’s specific for women to use verbal aggression in intrasexual competition between women and rarely are there cases of physical assault. Women only tend to use language in competitive strategies [Buss, Dedden, 1990, apud Fitzgerald, Whitaker, 2009, p. 469].

Most relevant in explaining the genesis of male aggressive behavior proved to be the approaches from an evolutionary perspective. Thus, the fact that men are more aggressive and stronger than women can be explained through intrasexual competition (between males). Men have inherited these skills from our evolutionary ancestors, because, in general, in the living world, gaining a higher hierarchical status, resources, protecting the family, and obtaining competitive advantages in conquering women involves increased physical contest and increased aggressiveness [Buss, Duntley, 2006; Gat, 2010].

Similarly, in many animal species, including primates, males have the biological role of being guardians of the territory and of banishing the intruders or of protecting the group from predators, and these functions imply that males exhibit a higher level of aggression than females [Wilson, 1975].

The fact that males are more aggressive and more violent is reflected by their anatomy itself; in many animal species, they are heavier, more muscular, better armed with means of attack and defense. In humans, for example, the arms of men are, on average, 75 percent more muscular than those of women; and the top of a male body is 90 percent stronger than the top of a female body [Bohannon, 1997; Abe et al., 2003, apud Goetz, 2010, p. 16]. Also, men are taller, they have denser and heavier bones, their jaw is more massive, their reaction time is shorter, their visual acuity is better, their muscle/fat ratio is greater, their heart is bulkier, their percentage of hemoglobin is higher, their skin is thicker, their lungs bigger, their resistance to dehydration is higher, etc. In other words, men are more suited for battle than women, and these skills are native; they were selected and polished through evolution [Sell et al., 2012, p. 33].

Men also have a specific hormonal status. Testosterone, for example, is directly responsible for inducing competitive and even criminal behavior. According to Evolutionary Neuroandrogetic Theory, male sex hormones (androgens) are correlated with the increased ability of males to acquire resources, hierarchical position, and sexual partners [Ellis, 2003, 2004].

All of these anatomical, hormonal, behavioral and evolutionary factors demonstrate the biological, instinctual inclination of men to be more combative. Therefore, on an individual and social level, men are involved in acts of violence and crime. The social environment only cultivates and points out these predispositions towards fighting and aggression.


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About the Author

Dorian Furtuna, Ph.D., is an ethologist from Moldova who studies the evolutionary roots of human aggression.