Why Humans Attack


A look at the history of species through time shows a definable pattern; predator vs. prey, fight vs. flight. Avoiding conflict is common among animals - non-lethal alternatives are often used to determine superiority and the submissive ‘loser’ leaves without serious injury.


A show of aggression is more common than a lethal display of force, with obvious exceptions being linked to basic needs. These circumstances would include fighting over food or shelter in time of dire need. Fights may also take place for the right to mate and perpetuate the species, but played-out roles of posturing and submission are still more likely in the case of the latter.


Why do humans attack each other? The answer generally lies in unmet needs as opposed to animal instinct, according to an extensive study conducted by twenty of the world’s leading scientists who concluded that:

“(1) It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors;

  • it is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature;
  • it is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour;
  • it is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a ‘violent brain’; and
  • it is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by ‘instinct’ or any single motivation.”

In simpler terms, deliberate violence is not genetically or instinctively driven. It is a response to a perception (real or imagined) that a need is being unmet. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists basic human needs in the following order:

  • Physiological needs (food, water, shelter)
  • Safety needs (safety and security)
  • Belongingness needs (love, affection)
  • Esteem needs (self-esteem, approval from others, respect)
  • Personal fulfilment (happiness, contentment)


When the most basic needs are unmet, violence can be triggered. For most of the others, tattack is generally not the response - however, when warped needs cause an imbalance, normal behaviour may become warped as well. The need for drugs to soothe an addiction is an example of a warped situation in which violence may be an acceptable option to the person addicted. The need to act ‘tough’ or perform acts of violence to gain respect is another.

Dissatisfaction with one’s life or circumstances can misguidedly lead a person to attack another in the belief that they are somehow to blame, or because the aggressor feels ‘owed’ something (or denied something available to their victim, such as money, possessions, a job or social status). However, not all aggressive behaviour is a precursor to an actual attack. Discerning the difference between a true attack and an incidence of posturing is an important part of self defence, and will be covered later in this booklet.