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Human Aggression

Genetically inherited or environmentally learned? The question has been asked
for years. Is human aggression genetically linked or is it the environment that
determines our aggressive nature? Over the years there have been many theories
proposed supporting the idea that aggression has a genetic link in humans.

“A century ago, Italian physician Cesare Lombroso claimed that sloping
foreheads, jutting chins and long arms were signs of born criminals” (Toufexis
52). More recently, claims have been made that “Man is a predator whose
natural instinct is to kill with a weapon”(Leakey 23). Again, there have
been quit a few ideas presented proclaiming mans’ genetic link to aggression.

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Some, looking in hindsight, have been ridiculous while others have been more
thought provoking but all have lacked sufficient proof. Likewise, there have
been several theories suggesting that the environment is what determines our
aggressive nature. One psychologist expressed that behavior is changed by
learning. It is not genetic in humans to be aggressive (Montagu 183). Many
studies have shown this to be true. When humans are subjected to aggressive
environments they are significantly more likely to be aggressive themselves. In
addition, when these studies were put under scrutiny they were verified. In
light of this only one obvious conclusion remains. Human aggression is a learned
trait resulting from the environment. It is not an embedded characteristic
lurking deep within the genetic make-up of all humans. A large portion of the
science and psychological community would like us to believe that humans are
inescapably aggressive. Psychologist Sigmund Freud expressed that humans are not
loving creatures rather they are creatures who wish to engage in aggression
(Donahue). This statement refers to underlying instinctive urges that he
believed motivated aggressive behavior. That has yet to be proven. Some other
scientist have looked to the past attempting to explain the present human state
by using our so-called “violent history” as a basis for their claims.

Claiming that, man has killed in all forms throughout history. Violence and
aggression are as much a part of today as they were hundreds of years ago (Dubos
42). “The sombre fact is that we are the cruelest and most ruthless species
that has ever walked the earth” (Storr 17). These concepts and statements
best represent this type of thinking. This segment of the science community has
continued to use this fallacy explain mans’ behavior. The writers who presented
it this way expressed it best; man is a killer because man kills or man kills
because he is a killer. It is circular reasoning with no basis in fact (Parens
13). “There is no genetic coding that inevitably results in
aggressiveness-” (Dubos 42). Other theories, though more scientific,
still fail to justify the hypothesis that humans are innately aggressive.

“In the 1960’s scientists advanced the now discounted notion that men who
carry an XXY chromosome pattern rather than the normal XY pattern, were
predisposed to become violent criminals” (Toufexis 52). It seems that every
theory concerning mans genetic link to aggression has been disproved or left
unproven. They simply just do not have the evidence to back the idea. Perhaps
they are victims of their own beliefs. Psychologist Ashley Montagu sums this up
best. He expressed that when discussing the cause of human violence we might
find that most people do not look at the facts and then make their decisions but
rather they choose the facts that best support what they already believe (23).

“It’s tempting to make excuses for violence” (Toufexis 52). Certainly
no one will accept responsibility for thousands of years of human aggression.

Rightly, no one should be asked to do so. However, we do need to be willing to
accept responsibility for ourselves as well as our actions. That is why it is
imperative that we no longer attempt to use the genetic crutch to justify
aggression. In other words, “behavioral genetics is the same old stuff in
new clothes… It’s another way for a violent, racist society to say people’s
problems are not their own fault, because they carry ‘bad’ genes” (Parens
13). We must look for a more suitable and consistent way of thinking. Because,
while it is true that many humans are killers, it is equally true that many are
not (Dubos 42). The best explanations of man’s aggressive behavior have been
those presented by Scientists and Psychologists looking for answers in the
environments we live in. Studies of violent crimes in different cultures have
given insight about whether or not the environment influences aggressive
behavior. In one study, it was found that America has more killings per year
than any other country by far, suggesting that there are environmental factors
working which influence aggressive behavior (Toufexis 52). In addition, the
study found that murder among the African-American community was significantly
higher than any other ethnic community in America. In fact, murder was the
number one cause of death among black men and women between the ages of fifteen
and twenty-four (Toufexis 52). Attempting to explain these facts using the
genetic attribution seems almost silly. Are you willing to accept the idea that
Americans are more genetically inclined towards aggression than people in other
countries? Those other countries from which we all, but the Americans Indians,
immigrated from. Furthermore, since African-Americans have a higher violent
crime rate than other Americans, does that mean African-Americans have genes
more strongly programmed for aggression. Again, it sounds silly. The answer lies
in the environment and culture we are raised in. How a person is brought up and
what type of stimuli is present is what determines how they will behave (Storr
19). Africa for instance has a very low violent crime rate when compared to
America yet native Africans and African-Americans share the same genes. Why
then, does the level of aggression differ so much? The answer again, is in the
environment and what we learn from it. Aggression is a learned characteristic
that is influenced and sometimes even nurtured by the environments we are raised
in. “One learns to be unaggressive simply by not being aggressive” (Montagu
183). In conclusion, science has not proven humans to be genetically inclined
towards aggression. In fact, many of the theories presented concerning innate
human aggression have been disproved. Leading one to believe that the genetic
link to aggression is, at best, a scapegoat for a long history of violence. On
the other hand, there have been many studies performed concerning the effects of
environment on aggressive behavior and the results proved that the environment
does influence aggressive behavior. Also, when this research was scrutinized the
outcome was the same. The results were repeatable and the research was proven.

If the facts speak for anything it is that human aggression is a learned trait
influenced by the environment, not a characteristic embedded in our genetic


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