rape and evolutionary psychology

Tue, 17 Jan 1995 08:09:43 -0400

Jerry Barkow, setting aside lurking for an instant.

Those interested in the rape thread might find some of the articles
listed below useful. I would particularly recommend the work of the

>From the viewpoint of evolutionary psychology, ours is a highly
complex brain that evolved to meet a variety of contingencies in a
variety of ways. Human beings evolved to have a number of distinct
reproductive strategies, the choice of strategy varying with the
individual, with some emphasizing one strategy, others using several
either serially or consecutively during their life histories. Having a
variety of behavioral strategies is typical of mammals and the
particular strategy followed has to do with environmental inputs.
Shields and Shields (cited previously by Quinlan), for example, argue
that rape in our species tends to be triggered by high female
vulnerability, with the rapist experiencing feelings of lust and of
anger/violence simultaneously. ("Female vulnerability" has to do with
the likely consequences of the act for the rapist, an idea that rather
nicely accounts for the frequency of violent rape in wartime and
perhaps for some social class differences.) Low female vulnerability
and high female reproductive value (youth, health, skills, resources)
triggers lust plus feelings of tenderness in the male.

All this greatly simplifies a complex and fascinating debate about
human sexuality. Those who think "biological" or "sociobiological"
means "invariant" or "mechanistic" or "nature vs. nurture" should
consider catching up with modern psychology. Human beings have a
marvelously complex psychology, one which both enables and constrains
our cultures. Evolutionary biology, fresh from its successful
de-mystification of non-human animal behavior, is a wonderful
generator of testable hypotheses about human nature. The result has
been the field of evolutionary psychology. (A good popular account of
some developments is Robert Wright's recent "The Moral Animal." For
sex in particular, see David Buss's "The Evolution of Desire." For a
more technical overview of the field, see Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby's
"The Adapted Mind" edited collection. For a textbook intended for
social-cultural anthropologists, see my "Darwin, Sex, and Status."

For some discussion of rape from an adaptationist stance, see:

Ellis, Lee. 1989. Theories of Rape: Inquiries into the Causes of Sexual
Aggression. New York: Hemisphere Publishing Company.

Ellis, L. 1991. A synthesized (biosocial) theory of rape. Journal of
Consulting and Clinical Psychology 59: 631-642.

Palmer, Craig. 1989. Is rape a cultural universal? A re-examination of the
ethnographic data. Ethnology 28: 1-16.

Palmer, C. T. 1992. The use and abuse of Darwinian psychology: Its impact on
attempts to determine the evolutionary basis of human rape. Ethology and
Sociobiology 13: 289-301.

Thornhill, R., and Thornhill, N. W. 1992. The evolutionary psychology of men's
coercive sexuality. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 15: 363-421.