Adapted to War (AWAR)

Led by Henrikas Bartusevičius
Apr 2021 - Mar 2026

Have humans evolved psychological adaptations to coalitional aggression or small-scale war? This question has generated major scientific debate involving anthropologists, archaeologists, economists, primatologists, psychologists, and political scientists. 

AWAR posits that evidence of special design, obtained from an integrated program of psychological experiments, is required to answer this elemental question. If humans are adapted to small-scale war, then human psychology must be equipped with specialized adaptations designed for the effective navigation of war: planning, executing, and defending against coalitional attacks. 

AWAR probes the existence of such adaptations. It focuses, specifically, on a coalitional formidability assessment mechanism, which likely helped ancestral humans to avoid costly fights. Such a mechanism, if revealed, potentially constitutes distinctive evidence that war shaped human evolution.

AWAR also explores contemporary implications of the coalitional formidability assessment mechanism: if it indeed exists, does it shape our attitudes and behavior today, particularly in the context of modern political violence (e.g., civil conflicts)? 

AWAR follows an adaptationist research program, consisting of six goals: 

  1. Delineate a concrete psychological phenomenon in the setting of small-scale war and theorize the adaptive problem the phenomenon evolved to solve. 
  2. Theorize a psychological mechanism capable of solving this problem, specifying its design features. 
  3. Based on the design features, postulate hypotheses. 
  4. Test for the existence of the design features, which tests for the existence of the adaptation itself. 
  5. Examine cross-cultural variation in the outputs of the adaptation and alternative explanations of results. 
  6. Assess whether the adaptation shapes people’s attitudes and behavior today, especially in the context of modern violence (such as armed civil conflicts).

This five-year research project (April 2021 – March 2026) is funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant (StG) as part of EU's program for research and innovation, Horizon 2020 (H2020).