Developmental stability and human violence

Proc Biol Sci. 1998 Jan 7;265(1390):1-6. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1998.0255.


Developmental stability (the precision with which genotypes are translated into phenotypes under physically stressful developmental conditions), is a major source of phenotypic and behavioural variation, yet researchers have largely ignored its potential role in the ontogeny of individual propensities toward human aggression and violence. In this study, we measured fluctuating asymmetry of the body and administered aggression and fighting history questionnaires to 229 college students (139 female and 90 male undergraduates). Among males, but not females, fluctuating asymmetry correlated negatively and significantly with the participants' number of fights and propensity to escalate agonistic encounters to physical violence. Principal components analyses and scree tests suggested that two psychometric factors underlie observed correlations between self-report measures of aggressive tendencies. The first factor, 'aggressive negative affect', reflected verbal aggression and hostility toward others, while the second factor, 'self-assessed fighting ability', reflected physical violence and a tendency to win fights. The two factors correlated minimally. For both males and females, the second factor correlated with number of fights while the first factor did not. Fluctuating asymmetry did not significantly correlate with either factor for either sex, but for both sexes, psychometric intelligence (IQ) correlated positively with the first factor.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality Development*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Violence*