Monday, 9 November 2009


I was thinking about writing about differences in use of objects in "Cultural activities" (I hate that phrase. Can you think of an un-cultural activity?) and how they drift over time. For example, nasqurrun, or the head things for yuraqing, used to be worn by men at some frequencies. But after kass'at contact with Alaska, female-only use got codified, and that's pretty much the way it is now.

Instead, I've got side tracked with a much more light hearted topic - physical aggression between spousal partners. A cheery subject! If I were to ask you to guess who is more likely to aggress against their spouses across the whole United States, you'd probably guess men are. Unless you're suspicious of a trick question, in which you'd guess the opposite. You paranoid people would win this round.

That's probably a surprising result, but it's actually a well supported one. Surveys in 1975, 1985 and other periods found shockingly high level of wife-to-husband violence. The results became even more surprising when you found out that severe violence (Kicking, hitting, beating, threatening with a weapon, using a weapon, etc.) was consistently higher amongst females than males. According to Bhrehm et al. 2005, (p.433) " Prospective research on aggression during the first years of marriage also found higher rates of Wife-to-Husband [aggression] (O' leary et al. 1989)".

Since the initial bunches of surveys and studies, there's been more, including some as recent as 1999 and 2005, "[...] including more than eighty published articles, books and other sources [...]" Obviously, this is an under-discussed facet of the human social experience. It may be men are reluctant to talk about it for cultural reasons, but more there seems a slightly more probable explanation.

Women out aggress their spouses in all measures of violence. However, our intuitive expectations for the subject might be somewhat explained through the outcome of aggression. To quote Barbra Morse (a researcher on such issues; 1995) "Women were more often the victims of severe partner assault and injury not because men strike more often, but because men strike harder."

Any given blow by a male is more likely to result in serious injury or harm. Normally, I'd be prattling on about how humans are more or less mono-morphic, when you compare us to differences between the genders in other species. Just compare bull moose and cow moose! However, in this case, the muscular differences between males and female humans are enough to result in a very different adverse outcomes (to steal the term from medicine).

The factors that predict spousal violence are complex, and I won't pretend to understand them. I could parrot back what's in my text book on the subject, but that wouldn't be a substitute for actually understanding the interplay of factors. Needless to say, like all aggression, it's complex.

The reason I'm blogging about this is I've been on an "Aggression" kick lately. I've got a question that's bothering me - one that sounds deceptively simple. I wonder how many fights an average male is involved in, in his lifetime. How many fights an average female is engaged in within her lifetime. And within the genders, how much 'heterogeneity' is there - that is, is it either people have many/no fights,  or is it that there are many intermediate of fights?  If you know the answer to this, I'd be greatly interested in hearing it.


gpc said...

That is very interesting. I am female, and apparently am the sissy type. I have never engaged in a fight with anyone (I was punched by a couple of girls in junior high but didn't hit back, and I have been assaulted by men). But I have also been pretty unsuccessful at relationships with the opposite sex. Which makes me wonder, if there is so much female aggression, does that mean we've favored the trait over the eons?

TwoYaks said...

Maddeningly, I can't get absolute rates, just relative rates. As far as I know, the absolute rate of spousal conflict is very low, but the the differences in relative rates is high. Without that crucial piece, I can't even begin to guess if your experience is the norm, or in the lower 5%...

I do have a few vague guesses as to the ultimate origin of spousal conflict, though. Conflict is greater when paternity of children is unsure. In both monogamous and non-monogamous species, when the male can't be sure the cub is his with a degree of confidence, it raises the incidence of inter-pair conflict. Evolutionarily, it does the male no good to put efforts into cuckolded offspring, while it's in the Female's best interest to make him provision the young.

In some systems, this is so developed to the point where Lions go through and massacre all the cubs when large brother coalitions take over prides, since they have a high degree of confidence that the offspring /aren't/ theirs, or their relatives. On the other end, species like bonobos, there's so little confidence in paternity, but the probability is high enough, that conflict is low. They achieve this through everyone mating with everyone else.

Of course, that's just a guess on my part, about the human case. I suppose the best way would be an experiment, but good luck getting people to volunteer for that one!

gpc said...

I don't know how much this connects with your specific topic, but I saw recently on pbs that humans have a higher rate of child abandonment and infanticide than other apes. Although infanticide is often male-executed, the female is generally complicit, and abandonment is mostly female. We may have perfected passive aggression, but it still sound like aggression to me.

Anonymous said...

Your question intrigues me. For what it's worth, when I was a kid I fought too many battles to count. I preferred to settle major disputes with a left hook, followed by an uppercut. (Hair pulling was extra.) As a young adult, I have only responded to unprovoked attacks from the opposite gender (three times). All three times, the ending was abrupt and the individual required medical attention.

Nothing to report from the last eight years, as I've made significant life changes and better choices.

Not sure where that leaves me, other than a better example for my own daughter and practicing Buddhist.