Intergroup Threat and Extralegal Police Aggression

An Evolutionary Interpretation

Authored by: Malcolm D. Holmes

Handbook on Evolution and Society

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9781612058146
eBook ISBN: 9781315634203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258339


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With the emergence of stable social groups among early hominins, natural selection favored the development of mental mechanisms for rapidly identifying and responding to ingroup and outgroup members. One characteristic response to outgroup members who posed potential threats to resources or personal safety would have been defensive aggression. The mental mechanisms underlying the behavior continue to inform social interaction among modern humans, sometimes eliciting aggression that is unnecessary and subject to legal sanction. The disproportionate police use of extralegal aggression in disadvantaged minority neighborhoods clearly illustrates this behavioral pattern. This chapter describes the evolution of emotional and cognitive processes involved in intergroup relations and shows how those archaic mental mechanisms may trigger acts of excessive force, the most serious form of extralegal police aggression, in disadvantaged minority neighborhoods.

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