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A Systematic Review of Evolutionary-Based Conceptualisations of Family Violence and the Development of an Alternative Motivational-Emotional Systems Approach

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posted on 2021-08-22, 20:37 authored by Riley, Joanne

Evolutionary psychology is a field that provides distal explanations of behaviour. Although it has potential to enhance current understandings of family violence, the present state of the literature is conceptually messy. The aim of the current thesis was to bring coherence to this domain by conducting a systematic review of evolutionary conceptualisations of family violence over the past four decades. Four databases (PsycINFO, PsycArticles, ProQuest Central, and Web of Science) were searched using relevant search terms to identify any work that examined family violence from an evolutionary perspective. A total of 54 publications were included in the review, ranging from theoretical pieces and empirical studies through to several commentaries. Findings indicated family violence was conceptualised as an adaptation, by-product, or pathology. However, numerous authors had contradictory perspectives as to how certain offences should be conceptualised, others failed to make a conceptual claim at all, and there was a tendency among authors to describe the behaviour as an adaptation rather than the underlying psychological mechanisms. To make sense of the findings, six recurrent themes were developed: lack of resources, genetic relatedness as a protective factor, fast life history strategy, reproductive value, lethal violence as pathology, and male sexual and familial proprietariness. The second aim of the thesis was to develop a novel theoretical framework that conceptualised family violence in a more clear and coherent manner. This new model was labelled the Fundamental Motives Framework and mapped findings from the systematic review onto a range of motivational-emotional systems. The Fundamental Motives Framework was discussed as a promising way of providing a multi- faceted, coherent perspective of family violence that accommodates for the heterogeneity in offending. Limitations and directions for future research were also discussed.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Forensic Psychology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Durrant, Russil