The Decline and Fall of Violence

In his new book, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker reports some rare good news about human nature. He argues that we—the human race—are becoming progressively less violent.

What's the Latest Development?


Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes, that "with notable exceptions, the long-term trend for murder and violence has been going down since humans first developed agriculture 10,000 years ago. And it has dropped steeply since the Middle Ages." Pinker challenges inherited concepts about human nature such as the 'noble savage' and defends individual agency despite recognizing the influence genetics has over our behavior. 

What's the Big Idea?

Pinker's book is a rare blast of optimism, particularly given its focus on human nature. "With a nod to the German sociologist Norbert Elias, Pinker calls our collective movement away from killing the 'civilising process'." In the past, Pinker gained a reputation for his meditations on evolutionary psychology, which some were quick to criticize as a form of biological determinism. But Pinker has consistently defended free will in the face of genetics. "It's this vision of our common humanity, what Abraham Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature', that animates Pinker's latest work."

Related Articles

Why drawing isn’t just an art

There's a growing understanding that drawing is much more than an art form: it's a powerful tool for learning.

(GoaShape via Unsplash)
Mind & Brain
  • We often think of drawing as something that takes innate talent, but this kind of thinking stems from our misclassification of drawing as, primarily, an art form rather than a tool for learning.
  • Researchers, teachers, and artists are starting to see how drawing can positively impact a wide variety of skills and disciplines.
  • Drawing is not an innate gift; rather, it can be taught and developed. Doing so helps people to perceive the world more accurately, remember facts better, and understand their world from a new perspective.
Keep reading Show less

4 new personality types revealed by huge study

It may be simpler than we thought.

(Anna Palm de Rosa, Public Domain)
Surprising Science
  • An analysis of a massive amount of data reveals four new personality types.
  • The study is the first to take self-reporting out of the equation.
  • The four new types are "average," "reserved," "self-centered," and "role model".
Keep reading Show less

Why the “slow metabolism” is a myth

Despite its prominence in our collective imagination, variations in metabolism play a minor role in obesity.

Photo: Science Photo Library
Surprising Science
  • Vox senior health correspondent Julia Belluz spent a day inside of a metabolic chamber at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.
  • Her 90 minutes on stationary cycle only burned 405 calories, just 17% of the day's total calories.
  • Resting metabolism uses up the bulk of the body's energy.
Keep reading Show less