Your Dose of Optimism: War isn’t Necessarily Inevitable, Researchers Say

We’ve heard repeatedly that humans are intrinsically a violent species and that war is an inevitability. While this conventional wisdom has been used to justify and shrug off acts of war, some scientists are finally contesting this notion. Their research suggests that peace is not such an elusive state for mankind after all.

Recently, a scientific team led by Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg examined the presence or absence of war in ancient societies. Inspecting anthropological clues of more than 20 hunter-gather civilizations, they believe that the evidence doesn’t suggest that warfare occurred. While skeletal remains do demonstrate that some ancient people were brutally murdered, these deaths seemed to stem from “individual conflicts” rather than coordinated war efforts.

“By showing that war is the exception rather than the norm in societies with a lifestyle resembling our ancestral past, the study supports a more optimistic view on the human potential for peace,” said Soderberg.

Other researchers, however, disagree with the team’s conclusions. They take issue with the way Soderberg and Fry ruled certain violent deaths not acts of warfare. “If you find a spearhead or arrowhead in someone’s bones, which is common, is that war or interpersonal dispute?” asks anthropologist Michael Wilson. “You just don’t know.”

Wilson chalks up the researchers’ findings to wishful thinking. He believes they are trying to disassociate war from human nature to somehow justify not needing to have war. “It’s clear that warfare occurs very commonly wherever there are people, but it doesn’t always occur,” he adds. “If we can find why people are less likely to go to war in some instances, then we’ll be doing something useful.”

Fortunately, that’s precisely the direction another research team has adopted. Political psychologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst noticed that most work in their field focuses on the causes of war rather than peace. They believe that having a better comprehension of how people avoid engaging in violence and resolve conflicts is a valuable tool moving forward.

The UMass Amherst psychologists suspect that the human mind has been taught to look at the world from a war-based perspective. Fortunately, early research suggests that the reverse can take place, too: the brain can learn to embrace a peaceful viewpoint, as well. Therefore, the psychologists laud peaceful leaders like Nelson Mandela who model non-violent resistance and lifestyles while inspiring others to do the same.

These researchers theorize war is a state of mind, not a human condition. “It is our contention that psychology can and should be applied to promote peace, not war,” said Linda Tropp, one of the university’s psychologists.

Perhaps that’s a big part of our war problem – the military industrial complex has taken a firm grasp of society and does not want the human mind to consider other options for handling conflicts. With billions of dollars at stake, the only psychology they wish to promote is one where violence is not only the answer, but the only answer.

Unfortunately, no amount of research can allow us to definitively state whether or not humans were born peaceful or peaceful minds can be developed by example. However, these studies do give some hope that war is not necessarily inevitable for human society. Considering the dreary drones and genocide going on in the world around us, sometimes a dose of research-based optimism is helpful to get through the day.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Joanna W.
Joanna W4 years ago

no war!!!! end of...

Miles Foster4 years ago

This is a very complex issue and it seems the old Nature / Nurture debate staggers on. Jane Goodall and her team observed warfare among the chimpanzees of Gombe (our closest relatives) and found that it was due to pseudospeciation; the tendency to create in-groups and out-groups. Those in out-groups are seen as another, usually inferior, species. In almost every war there has ever been combatants have found dehumanising or derogatory names for those they were fighting, it makes it easier to kill them; think of Gooks, Towel Heads and a host of others. The Nazis first made the Jews into an out-group and the rest followed naturally. The dreadful bullying that takes place in our schools and can lead to the tragic suicide of its teenage victims has the same origin. But if we teach our children respect, tolerance, compassion and acceptance we can go a long way to defusing this tendency. After centuries of bloody conflict it is now unthinkable that there could be a major war between European nations. We've finally put it behind us. Today Europe. Tomorrow the world. Why not?

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

If we got to know each other and what makes us tick, maybe then we could apply basic principles we already know and want ... i.e.

If hate was replaced with love -- evil with good - dishonesty with truth -- indifference with compassio -- despair with hope -- selfishness with caring/sharing -- individual with community -- ignorance with knowlege -- sadness with joy -- suffering with happiness -- greed with moderation ... what a wonderful world it could be.

Too far gone to remember? Most days it seems so, yet I'm a believer and responsible for what I know. That being said, I choose to remain on the path to better times. Just sayin ...

Margaret Goodman
Margaret G4 years ago

David Y. mentioned how what the United States people see of war recently has been sanitized.

My recollection is that this was planned. Among the lessons learned by the Pentagon from the war in Viet Nam, was that the civilians must not see what war really is.

I recall hearing during the George H. W. Bush war in Iraq that all pictures and videos taken in a war zone had to be approved by the military for broadcast, and that, furthermore, the pictures and videos had to be on stock that would deteriorate within 20 years.

We know that the George W. Bush administration would not allow pictures and videos of the caskets of the dead soldiers returning to the States.

The above is why I believe that Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are heroes.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Ina d.
Ina d4 years ago

Unfortunately, the people who make a lot of money from weapons and other war-related stuff will want to keep selling their products. It is a cynical industry built on greed that does not care about the consequences of their products, as long as they don't become a victim themselves.

Azaima A.
Azaima A4 years ago

When I was a history major in the 70's it was all about war. Hope in the future history teaches other things.

vee s.
Veronica-Mae s4 years ago

Conflicts tend to occur when one person or group wants something the other person or group has. It seems that what mankind suffers from is a lack of contentment with what he has and always wants more. So called 'primitive' people do not seem to have this urge to have "more" - they share what they have, work, together and are therefore peaceable on the whole. So... who is 'primitive' ?