Evolutionary Psychological Science

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 454–471 | Cite as

Adaptation to the Suicidal Niche

  • C. A. Soper
Theoretical Article


Primarily a precis of the book The Evolution of Suicide (Soper 2018), this article argues that behaviorally modern humans are specifically adapted to survive in what the author calls the “suicidal niche,” an ecological arena characterized by the endemic fitness threat of deliberate self-killing. A “pain-and-brain” model of suicide’s evolution is proposed, which explains suicide as a noxious by-product of two adaptations combined: the aversiveness of pain, which demands that the organism act to end or escape it, and the cognitive sophistication of the mature human brain, which offers self-killing as an effective means to satisfy that demand for escape. These “pain” and “brain” primary adaptations are posited to be both sufficient conditions for suicide and universal among mature humans, which suggests that the fitness threat of suicide would have posed a predictable and severe adaptive problem in the evolution of our species. Adaptive solutions, which emerged to address the problem, are hypothesized to be psychological and sometimes culturally informed mechanisms that either dull the “pain” motivation for suicide or deny the “brain” means to conceive and enact suicide—or, most likely, a combination of the two strategies. Evolved antisuicide defenses may account for many otherwise puzzling aspects of human behavior and psychology, including susceptibilities to depression, addictions, self-harm, and certain other common psychiatric symptoms, which the author posits to be protective, autonomic responses to suicidogenic pain. The precision of human adaptation to the suicidal niche makes it unlikely that deliberate self-killings can, even in principle, be predicted with useful accuracy at the individual level.


Suicide Suicidology Evolution Evolutionary psychology Human evolution Suicidal niche Depression Addiction Mental disorder Positive psychology Fender Keeper Cognitive floor 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. A. Soper
    • 1
  1. 1.LisbonPortugal

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