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The Evolutionary Puzzle of Suicide

Hopital Paul Brousse, AP-HP, INSERM U 669, University Paris-Sud 11, 12 Avenue, Paul-Vaillant-Couturier, Villejuif 94800, France
Pitié-Salpêtrière, Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, Université P&M Curie-Faculté de Médecine, INSERM U894, 47 Bd de l'Hôpital, Paris 75013, France
Laboratoire de Psychologie Médicale, Université Libre de Bruxelles, CHU Brugmann, Place van Gehuchten 4, Bruxelles 1020, Belgium
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10(12), 6873-6886;
Received: 18 October 2013 / Revised: 29 November 2013 / Accepted: 29 November 2013 / Published: 9 December 2013
PDF [220 KB, uploaded 19 June 2014]


Mechanisms of self-destruction are difficult to reconcile with evolution’s first rule of thumb: survive and reproduce. However, evolutionary success ultimately depends on inclusive fitness. The altruistic suicide hypothesis posits that the presence of low reproductive potential and burdensomeness toward kin can increase the inclusive fitness payoff of self-removal. The bargaining hypothesis assumes that suicide attempts could function as an honest signal of need. The payoff may be positive if the suicidal person has a low reproductive potential. The parasite manipulation hypothesis is founded on the rodent—Toxoplasma gondii host-parasite model, in which the parasite induces a “suicidal” feline attraction that allows the parasite to complete its life cycle. Interestingly, latent infection by T. gondii has been shown to cause behavioral alterations in humans, including increased suicide attempts. Finally, we discuss how suicide risk factors can be understood as nonadaptive byproducts of evolved mechanisms that malfunction. Although most of the mechanisms proposed in this article are largely speculative, the hypotheses that we raise accept self-destructive behavior within the framework of evolutionary theory. View Full-Text
Keywords: suicide; ethology; genetics; depression; evolutionary psychology; Darwin suicide; ethology; genetics; depression; evolutionary psychology; Darwin
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Aubin, H.-J.; Berlin, I.; Kornreich, C. The Evolutionary Puzzle of Suicide. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10, 6873-6886.

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