Nurture Alone Can’t Explain Male Aggression

Steve Stewart-Williams in Nautilus:

A young bank teller is shot dead during a robbery. The robber flees in a stolen van and is chased down the motorway by a convoy of police cars. Careening through traffic, the robber runs several cars off the road and clips several more. Eventually, the robber pulls off the motorway and attempts to escape into the hills on foot, the police in hot pursuit. After several tense minutes, the robber pulls a gun on the cops and is promptly killed in a hail of gunfire. It is later revealed the robber is a career criminal with a history of violent crime stretching all the way back to high school.

Now tell me: Are you picturing a male or a female robber? If you look back at the last paragraph, you’ll notice that I didn’t actually specify the robber’s sex. Nonetheless, I’d be willing to bet that you were picturing a man. Don’t worry—you weren’t being sexist; you were simply playing the odds. Most men are not especially violent, but most people who are especially violent are men. And rare though they might be, men such as our fictitious robber are the extreme of a more general trend, namely that men are more violent than women, more in-your-face aggressive, and more prone to taking risks.

Why? Where do these all-too-familiar sex differences come from? A recent New York Times opinion piece weighed in on this difficult question, and came to a fairly common conclusion. The headline captured the gist: “It’s Dangerous to Be a Boy: They smoke more, fight more and are far more likely to die young than girls. But their tendency to violence isn’t innate.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, sex differences in aggression come entirely from the environment: from culture rather than biology, nurture rather than nature. Let’s call this the Nurture Only position.

More here.

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