“The Murderer Next Door” Quotes

Here’s the quotes I found most interesting from The Murder Next Door: Why The Mind Is Designed To Kill by David M. Buss. As always, if you like the book, please buy it here.

“There is a fundamental logic to murder – ruthless but rational – and it resides not only in the minds of people who actually become murders, but in the minds of all of us.” (5)

“According to our findings, 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women have had at least one vivid fantasy about killing someone.” (8)

“Seven years of near obsessive subsequent research into murder has led me to the conclusion that, yes, the human mind has developed adaptations for killing – deeply ingrained patterns of thought, often accompanied by internal dialogue, anchored in powerful emotions – that motivate us to murder.” (8)

“Murder is a product of the evolutionary pressures our species confronted and adapted to.” (9)

“It may seem bizarre to talk about killing as adaptive, or murder as advantageous, but in fact the benefits of killing, in an evolutionary sense, are so substantial that the real mystery is not why killing has been so prevalent over our evolutionary history, but why killing has not been more prevalent.” (11)

“The evolution of the psychology of murder has been like an arms race: in response to the threat of murder, we’ve developed a well-honed set of defenses against it, and they have acted as powerful deterrents.” (11)

“A core argument that I will make in this book is that passions are rational. They function as well-designed components of human psychological machinery, facilitating effective solutions to specific adaptive problems. They succeed at precisely those critical junctures in life when dispassionate cold calculation would fail. Emotions, far from opposing reason, are extraordinarily effective means for implementing goals.” (15)

“The saying, “Don’t get mad, get even,” misses this basic point: getting mad exists, in part, precisely for the purpose of “getting even.”” (15)

“In our study of 375 Michigan murders, we found that 96 percent were judged to be legally sane, competent, and nonpsychotic. They full understood that their actions were wrong and illegal.” (15)

“Most killers, in a nutshell, are not crazy. They kill for specific reasons, such as lust, greed, envy, fear, revenge, status, and reputation, or to get rid of someone who they perceive is inflicting costs on them. They are like you. They are like me.” (15)

“Key contexts in which women’s lives are at risk are “lovers’ triangles” in which the woman is substantially younger than her husband.” (17)

“Men indicate an increased willingness to kill as their mating prospects become dire; women do not.” (17)

“”For every “successful” murder, there are more than there attempted murders that fail because of successful medical intervention.” (20)

“Serial killers attract a wildly disproportionate share of media attention, but they actually account for only 1 to 2 percent of all murders in America.” (21)

“In one study of murderers who were paroled, for example, only 6 percent were subsequently rearrested for committing another murder. Although there clearly are some career criminals who have committed repeated murders, most murderers kill only once.” (22)

“Year after year, the percentage of murders in the U.S. that are committed by men hovers right around 87.” (22)

“Of murder victims in any given year, on average, 75 percent are men – a percentage that has remained quite stable over the years.” (22)

“On average, 65 percent of all murders involve males killing males. By comparison, 22 percent of murders involve males killing females. As for murders by women, 10 percent of all murders, on average, involve females killing males, and a mere 3 percent of murders involve females killing other females.” (22)

“A host of personality variables on which men score higher than women correlate with criminality and delinquency in general. These include impulsivity (acting without deliberation), sensation seeking (taking risks to achieve novel experience), childhood aggressiveness, lack of empathy, and deficient moral reasoning. None of these personality variables, however, have been shown to predict homicide specifically.” (23)

“The highest rate of murdering occurs between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine, though murder rates start rising by the time males reach fifteen and continue to remain high into the thirties and forties. Most murder victims also fall in their twenties, with a similarly wide age distribution.” (23)

“Murder increases dramatically as males enter the years of reproductive competition.” (23)

“Of all crimes, murder has the highest “clearance” or solve rate.” (23)

“The clearance rate for burglary is only 14 percent, arson 15 percent, larceny-theft 20 percent, the clearance rate for murder typically hovers around 69 percent.” (24)

“Though poverty per se is not a powerful predictor of crime, economic inequality is. In regions where there is great income disparity, where some people are wealthy and others dirt-poor, the rates of both property offenses and violent crime tend to increase.” (26)

“The patterns that I discovered in the triggers of homicidal fantasies support a radical new theory of murder – that all of us house in our large brains specialized psychological circuits that lead us to contemplate murder as a solution to specific adaptive problems.” (30)

“People have hundreds of homicidal thoughts for ever one that is acted upon. Though homicidal thoughts usually precede murder – as we found in the case files in the Michigan study of murderers – they do not invariably, or even very often lead to murder. In fact, most fantasies help to put the brakes on murderous impulses, inhibiting the intent to kill, because we usually appraise the costs as too high and choose more effective, less risky solutions.” (31)

“A crucial point about this evolutionary theory of murder is that I am not arguing for “genetic determinism.” I am not saying that we are lumbering robots with blind killer-impulses that inevitably get expressed. I am also not saying that we have no choice in the matter of whether or not we go to the extreme of actually killing someone. The mere existence of psychology adaptations that lead us to murder in certain circumstances does not mean that we are inevitably driven to kill. Murder is one strategy on a menu of solutions to a predictable set of adaptive problems that were frequent in the lives of our ancestors and, fortunately, most of the time people use non-lethal means of solving these problems.” (34)

“The more I analyzed the psychology of killing in cases of actual murder and in homicidal fantasies, the more striking was the realization that so many murders follow from the intense pressures of mating.” (44)

“The qualities men find attractive – clear, smooth, unblemished skin; lustrous hair; good muscle tone; symmetrical features; and a narrow waist and full hips that make a waist-to-hip ratio of .70-are clear markers of both health and youth, and hence of fertility. These standards of female beauty are remarkably consistent across cultures, with a few notable exceptions, such as a preference for slimness or plumpness.” (55)

“Research shows that social comments can indeed influence our perceptions of attractiveness.” (57)

“The fundamental difference in reproductive biology cascades throughout the entire mating system. For one thing, it accounts for why males throughout history have devoted far more energy to what evolutionary biologists call “mating effort,” which includes chasing, attracting, and courting mates, as well as engaging other men in competition. Women rapidly reach diminishing returns, in the currency of reproductive fitness, from a fanatical expenditure of effort toward mating. Once a woman has found a man she’s happy with, she wants to settle down more readily. This is because her fitness depends more on the quality of a single male and his investment in her children. For most women, adding additional sex partners does not increase, and may actually decrease, their reproductive success (although there are important exceptions, such as if her mate is infertile, if she’s looking to leave the relationship, or if she can garner superior genes through an affair).” (59)

“Henry Kissinger captured this insight by noting, “Power is an aphrodisiac.” He also noted, “Now when I bore people at parties, they think it’s their fault.” (59)

“One especially interesting finding is that, although men do not compete as strenuously as women to be physically attractive, men’s attractiveness is far more influenced than is women’s by the prestige of his clothing and other external accoutrements.” (59)

“Men seemed virtually impervious to clothing context, judging the same women to be nearly sexually attractive regardless of the prestige of the clothes they wore.” (60)

“Men mature sexually two years late, on average, than women – to beef up for the intensity of intrasexual competition rather than enter the fray before they are ready.” (61)

“Love has turned to hate, and yet, as many of the cases we studied revealed, the murderers are generally still in love with the people they kill.” (70)

“Robert Frank contends that the emotion we call love is the evolved solution to the problem of commitment. If a partner chooses you for purely rational reasons, he or she might leave you for the same rational reasons: finding someone slightly more desirable on all of the “rational” criteria. If your partner is blinded by an uncontrollable love, however, a love for only you and no other, then commitment should be strong even when you are sick rather than healthy, when you are poorer rather than richer. It’s the emotion that signals to your mate that you are willing to commit emotional, economic, and genetic resources over the long haul.” (77)

“People in love literally experience a flood of dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin – brain chemicals that simultaneously produce euphoria, psychological intoxication, and ideational obsession. These psychological rewards keep us performing activities – having sex, investing in romance, giving to children – that lead to successful reproduction.” (77)

“Evolution is utterly indifferent to the reprehensibility of the tactics it favors. It ruthlessly favors whatever strategies work in the retention of reproductively valuable resources, even if that means inflicting costs on others by those strategies. And when it comes to mating, evolution has equipped us not with a single strategy, but, rather, with a menu of strategies. Even as it has provided the motivations and mechanisms for falling into committed love, it has also given us strong incentives to cheat, and to fall out of love.” (77)

“A man who was chosen in part for his potential wealth and ambitious goals may get dumped when he loses his job. A woman chosen in part for her youth and beauty may lose out when a younger model beckons the woman’s partner. An initially considerate partner may turn cruel. And a couple’s infertility after repeated episodes of sex may prompt either to seek a more fruitful union elsewhere.” (78)

“We may admire a woman who stands by her loser husband. But few of those who did are our ancestors. Modern humans descended from those who traded up when the increment was sufficient to outweigh the manifold costs people experience as a consequence of breaking up.” (78)

“The average woman is able to attract a far more desirable mate for a short-term sexual encounter than for long-term love, because highly desirable men are willing to consent to sex with a woman of lower mate value as long as the liaison does not come burdened with entangling commitments.” (79)

“When ovulating and therefore capable of conception, women in committed romantic relationships report flirting more with other men, feeling more sexual desire for other men, and experiencing more sexual fantasies about men other than their regular partners. These effects, however, occur only if the woman is mated to a relatively asymmetrical partner.” (81)

“Women having affairs appear to time sex with their affair partners to coincide with the time they are ovulating, acting on their lust for other men, whereas they time sex with their regular partners to coincide with when they are least fertile.” (81)

“My study of married couples confirmed that sexual infidelity and intense mate guarding increased with the age discrepancy between man and wife. Older men married to younger women get both more vigilant and more violent.” (94)

“The Stratten murder contained all the ingredients for women’s highest risk of being murdered by the men they reject – when they are young and attractive, when they are mated to men substantially older, during the first few months of the breakup, when a rival has gained sexual access to her, and when the man’s prospects for replacing her with a woman of equivalent mate value approach nil.” (95)

“In one study, 64 percent of men who killed their mates were unemployed at the time of the killing.” (97)

“Women are more likely than men to forgive a partner’s sexual indiscretion, especially if it was a single episode and not linked with emotional or psychological involvement with the short-term lover. “(101)

“The main motives for murders committed by women, in short, are self-defense and a desperate desire to escape a dangerous marriage.” (114)

“We tend to pick friends because they share interests and values, and often share many of the same desirable qualities that we possess. So people have an above-average probability of being
attracted to the friends of their mate.” (141)

“Just as women’s youth and physical attractiveness figure heavily in men’s initial mate preferences, they also determine the intensity of effort men devote to holding on to her.” (147)

“Women’s mate guarding, in contrast, was not at all influenced by their husbands’ physical appearance or age. It was affected by the husband’s income and how determined he was to climb the status hierarchy.” (147)

“Men tend to focus on the poacher’s sexual advances, which are an indicator of the threat of genetic cuckoldry. Women’s anger tends to focus on a potential rival’s attractiveness and the threat that it poses to the partner’s commitment and devotion. To a woman, a rival’s emotional involvement with her partner is the more galling factor.” (151)

“Whereas men focus almost exclusively on the partner’s sexual involvement with a  rival, women are more profoundly upset by signs of psychological intimacy, which signal the long-term loss of a mate.” (152)

“Our psychological mechanisms governing mating were not designed to deal with the modern context.” (152)

“In Texas, until 1974, it was perfectly legal to kill a man found in bed with one’s wife, with absolutely no penalty.” (157)

“Because the costs of being killed are so severe, our evolved emotions cause us to overestimate the likelihood of death whenever the odds of being killed actually are nonzero.” (160)

“Evolution will favor parents who withhold their investment from children who are losing propositions. In the extreme case, evolution has favored adaptations that motivate us to kill children who severely interfere with our prospects for reproductive success.” (165)

“Infanticide by a genetic parent is one of the few types of murder that women commit more than men.” (165)

“Parents, mostly mothers, kill their infants for observable deformities more than for any other single cause of infant killing.” (166)

“Far more genetic children are killed by their mothers than by their fathers, especially at very young ages, because it is the mothers who face the problem of burdensome children to the greatest extent.” (169)

“Despite utopian visions and wishful thinking about egalitarian values, all human societies are subject to strict, and sometimes frustrating, rules regarding status. All societies, throughout the eons of evolution, have had status hierarchies.” (198)

“In the modern world, killing is clearly not a successful strategy for getting ahead. But for most of our evolutionary history, there were no police forces, judicial systems, or jails. Our psychology was forged in the evolutionary furnace of small-group living, and in that context, murder under some circumstances would have been a successful way of gaining and maintaining position in status hierarchies.” (201)

“Ecclesiasticus says: “The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh bones.” (205)

“Cultural values appear likely to set different thresholds for activating the homicidal circuits we all possess. The underlying motives for murders are identical in Southern and Northern men. Residing in cultures of honor, such as those of the American South, seems to lower the threshold for acting on these universal male motives, but the motives remain the same.” (213)

“In human evolutionary competition, the greater the variability among men in access to resources and to women, the riskier the men’s competitive strategies will become.” (213)

“Killing is more common in cultures lacking television, movies, and violent video games.” (230)

“Our moral abhorrence of homicide should not cause us to reject the compelling evidence that a deep psychology of killing has been and is an essential component of human nature.” (231)

“Murder has evolved as only one among a menu of contingent strategies for solving very specific adaptive problems of survival and reproductive competition.” (237)

“The overwhelming majority of actual murders occur within racial and ethnic groups. In the United States, 88 percent of white murder victims are killed by other whites, and 94 percent of African American murder victims are killed by other African Americans.” (238)

“The expressions of xenophobia are anachronisms whereby a fear of strangers who appear different, so supremely adaptive in the evolutionary past, gets played out mistakenly in the modern world through the ugliness of racial fear and unwarranted hatred.” (239)

As always, if you enjoy the quotes, please buy the book.

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