Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • News Feature
  • Published:

Human behaviour: Killer instincts

What can evolution say about why humans kill - and about why we do so less than we used to? Dan Jones reports.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Daly, M. & Wilson, M. Homicide (Aldine de Gruyter, New York, 1988).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Duntley, J. D. & Buss, D. M. in The Innate Mind (eds Carruthers, P., Laurence, S. & Stich, S.) 291–304 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2005).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Sear, R. & Mace, R. Evol. Hum. Behav. 29, 1–18 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Archer, J. Rev. Gen. Psychol. 8, 291–322 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Davidson, R. J., Putnam, K. M. & Larson, C. L. Science 289, 591–594 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Raine, A., Buchsbaum, M. & LaCasse, L. Biol. Psychiatry 42, 495–508 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Raine, A. & Yang, Y. Soc. Cogn. Affect. Neurosci. 1, 203–213 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Williams, J. M., Oehlert, G. W., Carlis, J. V. & Pusey, A. E. Anim. Behav. 68, 523–532 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Wrangham, R. W., Wilson, M. L. & Muller, M. N. Primates 47, 14–26 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Burbank, V. K. Hum. Nature 3, 251–277 (1992) .

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Choi, J.-K. & Bowles, S. Science 318, 636–640 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Pinker, S. The New Republic 236, 18–21 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Eisner, M. Br. J. Criminol. 41, 618–638 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


Additional information

Dan Jones is a freelance writer in Brighton, UK.

Related links

Related links

Related external links

Web focus on the chimp genome

Web focus on hominid evolution

Discover chimpanzees

Human security centre

The films of Stanley Kubrick

Dan Jones's blog

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Jones, D. Human behaviour: Killer instincts. Nature 451, 512–515 (2008).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing