Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Red Queen Hypothesis, The

  • Nicholas PrimaveraEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_2663-1



The Red Queen hypothesis is an evolutionary hypothesis that states that all living beings must constantly adjust, evolve, and reproduce while attempting to survive ever-evolving predators.


This hypothesis was first proposed by Leigh Van Valen in 1973. The term “Red Queen” is a reference to a statement made by the Red Queen to Alice, characters in the popular 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, written by Lewis Carol.

The Red Queen Hypothesis and it’s Relevance

The statement that sparked this hypothesis is “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place” (Carroll 1871). Van Valen’s reference is essentially a metaphor for an evolutionary arms race. Predators that undergo a beneficial adaption may spark a change in selection pressure when it comes to a group of prey. This, in turn, would continue in a positive feedback loop, which gives rise to a form of antagonistic coevolution. Predators must attempt to compensate for better defensive adaptions that are being used by prey. For example, rabbits are considered prey, and foxes are considered predators. In this example, the only way the foxes can compensate for a better defensive adaption by the prey (e.g., rabbits are able to run faster than their parents) would be to adapt a better offensive adaption (e.g., foxes are able to run faster than their parents) (Vermeij 1987).

Further, the Red Queen hypothesis has other practical applications to humans outside of the predator/prey model. According to military researcher Azar Gat, evolutionary theory and the Red Queen hypothesis are instrumental in understanding some of the many aspects that can contribute to war. Gat states “The Red Queen effect arises when two competing groups find themselves in a security dilemma. The security dilemma results when a group takes defensive measures (which possess inherent offensive capabilities) to improve their security, triggering a military arms race. This arms race, much like the example previously referenced, causes each side to consume ever increasing amounts of resources in order to outpace the other and to gain an advantage” (Gat 2009). An example of this occurrence was the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union which began in 1945 and ended with the signature of the START I treaty in 1991. It is easy to see where the parallels exist between the evolutionary theory and the real-world application of this hypothesis.


In conclusion, the Red Queen hypothesis is rooted within evolutionary theory; however, it transcends theory and is able to be represented by several aspects of modern society, including war.



  1. Carroll, L. (1991[1871]). 2: The garden of live flowers. In Through the looking-glass (The millennium fulcrum Edition 1.7 ed.).Google Scholar
  2. Gat, A. (2009). So why do people fight? Evolutionary theory and the causes of war. European Journal of International Relations, 15(4), 571–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Vermeij, G. J. (1987). Evolution and escalation. An ecological history of life (pp. 369–370). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SUNY New PaltzNew PaltzUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Russell Jackson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IdahoMoscowUSA