Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Homicide: Foundations of Human Behavior

Rate this book
The human race spends a disproportionate amount of attention, money, and expertise in solving, trying, and reporting homicides, as compared to other social problems. The public avidly consumes accounts of real-life homicide cases, and murder fiction is more popular still. Nevertheless, we have only the most rudimentary scientific understanding of who is likely to kill whom and why. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson apply contemporary evolutionary theory to analysis of human motives and perceptions of self-interest, considering where and why individual interests conflict, using well-documented murder cases. This book attempts to understand normal social motives in murder as products of the process of evolution by natural selection. They note that the implications for psychology are many and profound, touching on such matters as parental affection and rejection, sibling rivalry, sex differences in interests and inclinations, social comparison and achievement motives, our sense of justice, lifespan developmental changes in attitudes, and the phenomenology of the self. This is the first volume of its kind to analyze homicides in the light of a theory of interpersonal conflict. Before this study, no one had compared an observed distribution of victim-killer relationships to "expected" distribution, nor asked about the patterns of killer-victim age disparities in familial killings. This evolutionary psychological approach affords a deeper view and understanding of homicidal violence.

342 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1988

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Martin Daly

23 books11 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
46 (40%)
4 stars
42 (36%)
3 stars
22 (19%)
2 stars
3 (2%)
1 star
1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 6 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for Cam.
133 reviews26 followers
January 4, 2021
Although I have some reservations around the field, this book is evolutionary psychology done pretty well by two sober and clear thinkers.

Martin Daly and Margo Wilson were a power couple that helped set up the feild of evo psych in the 70s and 80s. Interestingly, another couple, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, were the other major pioneers of evo psych. Finally, two of the most well-known contemporary evolutionary psychologists are the couple Geoffrey Miller and Diana Fleischman.

I'm sure there's an evolutionary psychologist out there that has a theory of why evolutionary psychologists are attracted to each other ;)

We are less likely to be killed by our blood relatives
The authors invoke kin selection to claim that we are less willing to kill people we are related to: We share our genes with our relatives so we have an evolutionary stake in them.

Their claim is largely borne out in the data. Their main source is Detroit Police stats which was a big detailed data-base that the commissioner gave them access to because he was sympathetic to open data for research purposes.

Accounting for potential confounds
The authors are robust and statistically literate. They consider potential confounders and find elegant ways to account for them and test their hypothesis.

For instance, people spend more time with their relatives so there are more opportunities for violence. A naive approach may conclude that our blood relatives pose a greater risk. This is similar to the effect that most crashes occur near your house. This, of course, is not because your neighborhood streets are more dangerous than other roads, but because you spend most of your time driving nearby. Alex Honnold pointed out a similar phenomenon in the documentary Free Solo where most accidents happen on easier climbs (because that's where most of the training is done).

To account for the confound, the authors compare different types of housemates like blood relatives vs non-blood relatives. They also compare homicide victim rates with homicide co-offending rates. If proximity explains high rates of homicide victims that are relatives, it should also apply to the rate of co-offenders, in the same vein.

Blood relatives are far more likely to be co-offenders than victims of homicide: Around 15% of co-offenders were blood relatives compared to around 3% of homicide victims.

What about the victims that are related?
However, the number of homicide victims that are related to the perpetrator is not zero. For instance, there are many cases of infanticide in hunter gatherer tribes.

Infanticide occurs in the animal kingdom, so it doesn't falsify the theory that kin selection influences homicide. However, it does require an explanation.

The authors founds that victims of infanticide in human hunter-gatherer tribes were either not the parent's offspring, deformed or ill, or born under circumstances that weren't favourable for child rearing.

Another interesting aspect was that child killings also follow an age curve. Child victims are far more likely to be very young when the perpetrator is their parent.

Even our intuitions in the west (that we find child killing morally abhorrent) align with the age curve. Namely, we aren't surprised that most child killing are infants rather than young children or teenagers. It even seems obvious to us that it would be far worse to kill your ten year old than your ten day old if you were doing so due to lack of resources.

The distribution above roughly aligns with the age distribution of reproductive value.

In contrast, the risk that a child will be killed by a non-relative increases with age. Teenagers are at a far higher risk of being killed by a non-relative.

The authors also touch on the Cinderella effect, the phenomenon where step-parents a guilty of higher instances of child abuse compared to biological parents, which they further explore in their later book.

What are there issues with evo psych?
Evolutionary psychology often gets criticised as merely providing "just-so stories". An accusation which sometimes has some merit. A just-so story is when you start with a statistical fact and then retroactively fit an explanation to it (rather than starting with a clearly stated hypothesis and testing it).

Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent critic of evo psych, went too far when he suggested that evo psych is inherently limited to just-so stories. We can create an evo psych hypothesis right now that can be tested in principle. For instance, a coherent (but not necessarily plausible) hypothesis may be that people who have less sex are more caring towards their nephews and neices. You could empically test this and throw if it's false.

Daly and Wilson's approach seems to be evo psych done well. Conjecturing hypotheses and rigourously testing them.

The other major criticism of evo psych is it counters the theory of universal computation. Namely, cultural memes can override or overwrite genetic influences. For instance, we can choose to fast, or abstain from sex, or be a pacifist, or go skydiving, or kill ourselves. I haven't seen Daly and Wilson directly engage with this criticism, but I suspect they would grant the fact that genetic influences can be overridden but they are often aren't (and it's likely difficult to be done). As Robert Plomin has said about behavioral genetics: it describes what is not what can be.
Profile Image for Maher Razouk.
652 reviews178 followers
March 20, 2021
القتل داخل الأسرة
في أساطير العديد من الثقافات ، كان القتل البدائي هو قتل الأخوة. غالبًا ما يتم تصوير الخصوم على أنهم أول زوج من الإخوة في تاريخ العالم. وفقًا لإحدى هذه الحكايات ، التي لا يزال يتم سردها والاستمتاع بها في مجتمعنا ، فإن القاتل قابيل استاء من نجاح أخيه الأصغر هابيل فقتله .
يتم تصوير نزاعهم على أنه صراع بين الرعاة والمزارعين . في قصص مماثلة من ثقافات أخرى ، يتعلق الخلاف بالميراث أو النساء أو الحسد على مهارات الأخ.

لا يهم حقًا ما إذا كانت حكايات العنف الأخوي هذه لها أساس واقعي ، ومهما كانت أصولهم ، فإن جاذبيتهم المستمرة هي لأنهم يضربون على وتر حساس من التجربة الإنسانية. يمكن للأخوة أن يكونوا بالفعل منافسين شرسين ، وإذا كانوا رجالًا مهمين ، فقد تؤدي صراعاتهم إلى عواقب وخيمة للآخرين في مجالهم الاجتماعي.
تمتد نزاعات القتل المحتملة داخل الأسرة إلى ما هو أبعد من التنافس بين الأشقاء. وفقًا لنظرية فرويد المؤثرة بشكل كبير حول عقدة أوديب ، فإن الرغبة في قتل والد المرء هي عنصر طبيعي ، وربما عالمي ، في نفسية الذكور. لا داعي لأن تشعر النساء بالإهانة: أصر العديد من الكتاب على أن الفتيات العاديات أيضا حريصات بنفس القدر على قتل أمهاتهن. وبالطبع ، يُزعم على نطاق واسع أن الآباء يتعاملون مع ميول قاتلة خاصة بهم. لا عجب إذن أن "الشغل الشاغل للطفولة" ، وفقًا للمحللة النفسية للأطفال دوروثي بلوخ (1978) ، تبين أنه خوفنا من أن يقرر آباؤنا أن يقتلونا!

إذا كنا سنصدق علماء الاجتماع ، فإن هذه الدوافع القاتلة داخل الأسرة ليست مجرد مادة لأوهامنا ، ولكنها تتجلى في الواقع أيضًا. وفقًا لريتشارد جيلز وموراي ستراوس (1979) «المحققون الأكثر شهرة في العنف الأسري في أمريكا المعاصرة» :
الأسرة هي المكان الوحيد الأكثر شيوعًا لجميع أنواع العنف بدءًا من الصفعات إلى الضرب إلى التعذيب إلى القتل. يدرك طلاب جرائم القتل جيدًا أن الكثير من ضحايا القتل هم أفراد من نفس العائلة أكثر من أي فئة أخرى .
Martin Daly
Translated By #Maher_Razouk
Profile Image for Leonardo.
Author 1 book60 followers
Shelved as 'to-keep-reference'
August 16, 2018
datos estadísticos, antropológicos e históricos para demostrar que los hombres jóvenes se esfuerzan en conseguir y mantener un estatus social lo más alto posible porque de ellos depende en gran parte su éxito en la competición sexual.

Desigualdad Pág.156-157
Profile Image for David Gross.
Author 10 books101 followers
June 12, 2007
Applied sociobiology — in this case, applied to the problem of homicide. Why do people kill other people? Well, there are many reasons, and if you look at the statistics, most of them conform to some degree at least with predictions that would be made from applying sociobiological concepts to the problem.
Profile Image for Sara.
29 reviews
November 5, 2009
A look at interpersonal violence (specifically murder) among humans and its evolutionary history. Interesting, but I think as a theory, their ideas can be expanded on. "Demonic Males" is a more recent address of the same issues which I think does a better job of covering the incredibly complex issues of human agency and biological evolution.
Displaying 1 - 6 of 10 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.