J Korean Neuropsychiatr Assoc.  2022 May;61(2):63-73. 10.4306/jknpa.2022.61.2.63.

Evolutionary Anthropological Considerations of Suicide: How Has the Suicide Evolved?

  • 1Department of Anthropology, College of Social Science, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea


Since suicide ends the life of the individual, it is difficult for suicidal behavior to evolve. All humans are prone to suicide, however. In addition to being a human idea, it is ubiquitous across cultures. The high inheritability of suicidal behavior suggests that suicide does not only occur following a trauma that is socio-cultural in nature. In the past, a number of psychological, social, cultural, biological, and psychiatric explanations have attempted to explain the causes and mechanisms of suicidal behavior, but none of these explanations resolved its evolutionary puzzle. Several genetic approaches are discussed in this paper regarding the evolution of suicidal behavior. These approaches include mutation-selection balance, genetic drift, neutral evolution, balancing selection, and directional selection. A previous discussion detailed the inclusive fitness hypothesis and the by-product hypothesis. Taking them all together, suicide might be one of the by-products of the evolution of Homo sapiens. Also, the differences in suicide-related epidemiology between men and women are likely due to balancing selection, more specifically, sexually antagonistic selection. Hopefully, in the future, evolutionary simulation models and empirical data on suicide’s evolution may shed some light on some of these evolutionary explanations.


Suicide; Evolution; By-product; Balancing selection
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