Comps Insider: Alex Mackiel ’19

Alex Mackiel ’19, a double major (psychology and English) from Lake Elmo, Minn., tells us about his senior capstone experience, or ‘Comps,’ in support of his psychology degree.

Jan. 11, 2019

Alex Mackiel

What is the title of your Comps?

I am an English and psychology double-major. For psychology, the Comps section I am in is called “Human Aggression.” The title of my Comps specifically is: Aggression as a Strategy for Solving Adaptive Problems of Mating.

What is your Comps topic?

My Comps topic for psychology is on explaining human aggression. Why is aggression so common across the world? Why is it done predominantly by men, especially in its most extreme forms?

Numerous pieces of evidence point to aggression being an adaptation, namely, a behavior that increased the fitness of an organism to the environment or mating demands in which it evolved. Aggression served as a strategy to solve significant recurrent problems posed to individuals, which include resolving conflicts of interests in challenges like acquiring resources, protecting oneself and one’s kin from danger, and competing with rivals for access to mates.

In my paper I focus on mating as the domain in which aggression evolved because, even more than survival, mating is the ultimate evolutionary challenge posed to any organism and it is tightly bound with aggression.

Why did you choose your Comps topic?

For me, the most interesting questions of psychology are about human nature. Why are we the way we are? What do we share in common with all other people no matter the cultural boundaries?

For this reason, I adopted a broader evolutionary perspective rather than thinking about aggression at the level of brain regions or neurons firing in the brain. For me, the more interesting question is why something like aggression would ever evolve in the first place.

By understanding the circumstances in which aggression evolved we can better understand the variety of violent behaviors humans commit, and potentially how to overcome them.

What was the most interesting article/or piece of information that you found while researching your Comps?

Almost all the information I found was extremely interesting. One that immediately comes to mind is a scientific paper titled, “Homicide Adaptations,” offering an evolutionary explanation for why people kill. It argues that over human evolutionary history there have been specific and recurrent contexts in which the fitness benefits of killing outweighed the costs.

What was/is your Comps process like?

It consisted of developing a question within the topic of “Human Aggression.” Basically, I explored the scientific literature situated around the focus I wanted to explore, found a bunch of scientific papers, and read and synthesized them.

Why do you think it was/is valuable for you to write a Comps?

It is valuable to be able to develop a large cohesive argument from a wide array of scientific literature. Also, it has been very enjoyable to write a paper on a topic that I find very interesting and that I plan to further pursue as an experimental psychologist studying cooperation and conflict in the future.

Will you expand on your Comps in any way?

I still have to make several edits to my paper and probably will include some more empirical evidence to support my claims.