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"Our hypothesis, which is largely complementary to Wrangham, is that band elders engaged in infanticide and direct and indirect child homicide against the offspring of reactive aggressive adults through decisions during the foraging period of the Middle and Upper Pleistocene. We hypothesize that elders may have targeted the offspring of reactively aggressive males (and females) as retaliation for behaviors that were not good for the elders or their offspring and because surreptitiously killing the offspring of violent males was much less dangerous to the elders than killing the violent males. Such retaliation could have selected against reactive aggression as a genetic consequence. In other words, infanticide could have been Wrangham's “different stimulus” initiating HSD. Our argument is that the earliest language of single words (kill), and certainly the crude compounds, “kill-baby or “like father” and “like son,” would be enough to organize the “execution of an infant” in a relatively secluded birthing site. Infanticide effectively becomes a second moment of mate choice. Such an action could have been relatively safely concealed since an infant dying in childbirth in forager socio-ecological conditions was likely not unusual (see below). The relative simplicity of the language capacities necessary for infanticide contrasts with the more sophisticated language necessary to organize a safe coup and execution of a reactively aggressive alpha male."


This article was originally published in Frontiers in Psychology, volume 12, in 2021.

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