The evolutionary psychology of women's aggression

Anne Campbell

Abstract

Evolutionary researchers have identified age, operational sex ratio and high variance in male resources as factors that intensify female competition. These are discussed in relation to escalated intrasexual competition for men and their resources between young women in deprived neighbourhoods. For these women, fighting is not seen as antithetical to cultural conceptions of femininity, and female weakness is disparaged. Nonetheless, even where competitive pressures are high, young women's aggression is less injurious and frequent than young men's. From an evolutionary perspective, I argue that the intensity of female aggression is constrained by the greater centrality of mothers, rather than fathers, to offspring survival. This selection pressure is realized psychologically through a lower threshold for fear among women. Neuropsychological evidence is not yet conclusive but suggests that women show heightened amygdala reactivity to threatening stimuli, may be better able to exert prefrontal cortical control over emotional behaviour and may consciously register fear more strongly via anterior cingulate activity. The impact of testosterone and oxytocin on the neural circuitry of emotion is also considered.

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