Domestic violence may have its roots in evolution, according to a controversial new study – a finding that could explain why the crime is so widespread across the globe.
The latest findings suggest men who are abusive towards their partners have more children, meaning it could be a trait that has evolved because it benefits men.
The implication is that abusive men use violence to rape their partners, making them more likely to father children and pass their genes to the next generation.
Researchers say understanding the impact of evolution on domestic violence may aid future efforts to prevent it.
But critics say the study shows little about the inheritance of violent traits as it only looked at a single generation of violent men.
Domestic violence may have its roots in evolution, according to a controversial new study. The research suggests that men who are abusive towards their partners have more children in societies that don’t have birth control (stock image)
Scientists at the University of Toulouse, France, interviewed women of the Tsimane people – an indigenous culture of lowland Bolivia with no access to contraception.
Shockingly, 85 per cent of the 105 women they spoke to for the study had experienced domestic abuse during their lifetime.
Researchers found that on average women were more likely to give birth in a year in which their partner was violent with them.
Experts said sexual violence against a partner could increases a couple’s likelihood to have children, meaning abusive men are more likely to pass on their genes.
‘Intimate partner violence may persist as an evolutionary strategy to enhance male fitness,’ said anthropologist Dr Elizabeth Pillsworth, a researcher at California State University who was not involved in the study.
The controversial findings have linked with similar studies that examined some of humanity’s closest relatives.
The implication is that abusive men use violence to rape their partners, making them more likely to father children and pass their genes to the next generation. Understanding the impact of evolution on domestic violence may aid efforts to prevent it (stock image)
Certain species of baboon and chimpanzee have previously been shown to use long-term sexual intimidation to control their mates.
This suggests partner abuse has a long history in primates, including humans – although some scientists have disputed the claim.
Lead author of the new study Dr Jonathan Stieglitz cautioned its results do not prove that domestic violence has any evolutionary benefit for the entire species.
He wrote in Nature: ‘It would be wrong and misguided to say that evolution favours intimate partner violence, or that spousal abuse is adaptive.
‘Requirements for showing that a trait was and is favoured by natural selection are much more rigorous than what we do in this observational case study.’
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LIMITATIONS OF THE NEW STUDY?
A study from the University of Toulouse suggests that domestic violence may have its roots in evolution as abusive men are more likely to have children.
While the results are shocking, there are a few issues with the study that put its results into question.
Researchers only interviewed 105 women from an indigenous Bolivian community – a notably small sample size.
The process of interviewing people about past events is also known to be an unreliable method for gathering data.
The study linked women who had been victims of domestic violence to having more children on average than women who weren’t abused.
But the results are merely a correlation, rather than causation – and a number of factors could have contributed to this trend.
Lead author of the new study Dr Jonathan Stieglitz cautioned its results do not prove that domestic violence has any evolutionary benefit.
He said: ‘It would be wrong and misguided to say that evolution favours intimate partner violence, or that spousal abuse is adaptive.’
The research only looked at a single generation of Tsimane people, he said.
To show a ‘domestic violence trait’ exists, scientists would need to show that the children of abusive partners went on to reproduce more themselves.
Dr Emma Williamson, head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol, agrees.
She told MailOnline: ‘I don’t believe the premise of the evolutionary link is a valid one.
‘Any human behaviour could be described as linked to evolution as humans have evolved and as the authors of the study themselves recognise, such a link cannot be made from this particular study.’
According to Dr Stieglitz, the results may suggest partner violence is even more prevalent worldwide than the latest ‘frightening statistics’ already indicate.
He added the study could help combat domestic abuse in future by aiding our understanding of its causes.
‘The World Health Organisation reports that more than one in three women face violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime, and nearly one in four murders of women worldwide are by intimate partners,’ Dr Stieglitz said.
‘Developing effective interventions to reduce intimate partner violence requires understanding the underlying risk factors for such violence.’
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