The Evolutionary Basis of Violence

Researchers at the University of Utah have conducted a series of studies that support the theory that humans have a genetic legacy of violence. They studied the ability of the human fist to withstand sufficient pressure to deliver harmful blows to an adversary, and conclude the formation of the hand to have evolved in part from the practice of violence. According to the researchers, this is an outmoded and unfortunate legacy of our past, and one which is a liability in modern life.

This seems to fit with theories of testosterone causing violent behavior. It seems men especially, who have more testosterone than women, who generally have larger and stronger upper bodies than women, and who commit more crimes than women, have evolved to fight. History bears this out as well, with our record of fighting war after war. This unfortunate relic of the past needs to be countered, and one very good method of doing this is meditation.

Meditation is generally considered a calming activity, and is promoted as a stress reducer. Meditation is known to reduce blood pressure and feelings of stress. The benefits of meditation for prosocial behavior have been put to use for children as well. In a social service program for adolescent sex offenders, it was found that yoga training “helped them avoid sexually offending again”1. A similar result was found with school children of various ages.   School meditation was discussed in an article in the Huffington Post, where it was stated that having meditation programs in schools improved grades and reduced violence. Meditation programs in schools are slowly spreading as the benefits become clear.

Perhaps the most solid evidence of all comes from physiological data. It has been demonstrated that meditation actually changes brain structure2, 3. According to one study3, meditation for eleven hours produced changes in the neural pathways associated with the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain associated with self-regulation. This finding suggests that meditation can improve the connections in the brain that allow a person to behave in a more ethical manner. Strengthening such pathways through meditation could provide a means for reducing violence.

We have a violent past that continually resurfaces in many of our activities. We see violence in the news, entertainment, and advertising, and aggression and competition are promoted at work and school. We must counteract this dysfunctional inheritance, and contemplative practice can certainly take the lead. It is an excellent way not only to counteract violence, but to promote compassion.


Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.


1    Derezotes, D. (2000). Evaluation of Yoga and Meditation Trainings with Adolescent Sex Offenders. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Volume 17, Number 2, 98-113.

2    Nidich, S. I., Randi J. Nidich, R. J., and Charles N. Alexander, C. N. (2000). Moral Development and Higher States of Consciousness. Journal of Adult Development, Vol. 7, No. 4, 217-225.

3    Tang, Y., Lu, Q., Geng, X., Elliot A. Stein, E. A., Yang, Y., and Posner, M. I. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol. 107, No. 35, 15649–15652.


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