There are many different theories of why zombies show a complete disregard for their own physical well being when hunting humans.  This unique characteristic is rarely seen in the living world, and makes the undead all the more relentless and terrifying.

Using a recent evolutionary study from Michigan State University as a starting point, ZRS Researcher, Sarah Davey, suggests that  zombies allow themselves to be freely injured as a selfless gesture that benefits their fellow ghouls.

“MSU shows that populations of organisms that are physically or genetically similar act altruistically, thereby protecting the survival of the larger group.  It stands to reason that the reckless behavior of zombies is a subconscious byproduct of this same process.”

Though it’s general believed that the undead don’t technically work together in battle, Davey argues that any single zombie can function as the perfect decoy, sucking precious time, energy and resources from a survivor, even as the initial attack fails.  This ensures that future resistance will be weaker, substantially increasing the odds that zombie number two, three, five or ten will eventually succeed.

In Davey’s model, regardless of the zombie body count, the final meal is always a steaming plate of fresh human.



  1. The Wary Adversary

    We’re working under the assumption that zombies have a reasoned intent? I’m thinking back to Woodworth’s theory of the Dynamic Psychology, in which consciousness and mental processes act as a dynamic mediator between stimulus and response. At the heart of this is motivation. I feel Zombies, dealing with a great deal of cognitive deficiency, lack the basic faculties to produce reasoned intent for their actions.

    To suggest that they are working through altruism seems like a flash back to the earliest forms of animal psychology by Romanes using introspection through analogy. Just like how it was flawed for him to anthropomorphize animals, and assume that their behavior was a result of reasoning and cognition like that of living humans, I think it is flawed here to make the same mistake with zombies.

    • Well said, but it has been proven that single celled organisms can and do act altruistically, and no matter how mentally limited zombies are, they are more advanced than single celled organisms. Here is just one article of many on the subject:


      • The Wary Adversary

        I’m wary of using such words as “proven”. The theory seems supported, but I’m still skeptical of the idea of intent and reason in zombies, let alone altruism. In the study that you showed, I think they are a little too quick to place human traits onto single-celled organisms. All organisms exhibit behaviors that allow them to meet the demands of the environment to survive. If they don’t, they perish. Is this really reasoned altruism, or simply significant descent with modification? A strain of bacteria that just happened to have developed behaviors that mimic what we would call altruism to survive?

        Also, it would be a bit of a stretch to take the results of that study and apply it to zombie behavior. We are discussing organisms that haven’t descended evolutionarily, that are actually more regressive in their mental capabilities than that of humans (Assuming we are still discussing the “Shambler”). There appears to be no learning that occurs, and no collective human experience to be drawn upon for conscious reasoning and altruism to occur. I think as we discuss zombies, we might want to return to the antiquated mechanistic views of Descartes or Titchener when discussing behavior. In any case, it seems closer to simple instincts and reflexive behavior than altruism. My opinion on it, of course.

  2. Waldo van Jaarsveld

    I propose an easier explanation the some needs to feast in order to provide the brain with non stop nutrition in order to survive therefore the zombie becomes like a starved animal willing to do anything in order to survive

  3. What would this research say to the evolutionary tracts of sympathy? Was it not something we learned from the Neanderthals? The bones in France show remodeling and aging in Neanderthal remains which shows that either A) Neanderthals were like Wolverine-fast at healing in order to continue surviving [not really, but it would have to be a significant increase in healing capabilities for the purpose of argument] OR B) Neanderthals cared for their injured.

    Group selection is also not very prominent in the human world. In fact, there are more studies suggesting that humans are actually genetically selfish–that we would protect other humans in a fight against other species but that we would choose those most related to us as opposed to strangers within our own species. If it was true that they were using group selection as a rudimentary form of survival from genetic instinct, then it would also be true that they would not use group selection in the post-human world. This sentiment also calls into question whether zombies will recognize humans as significantly or biologically different enough from themselves to choose group selection. This research would also call into question the hunting and gathering techniques used by humans for centuries and whether or not zombies would undergo the same EEA as humans did when creating alternative food sources if/when they eradicate people from the face of the Earth.

  4. Ilana Gottfried-Lee

    i think how a zombie horde starts is just because their so damn stupid. a still one sees one walking and more join not knowing what their doing. The ones who started the pack continue walking because the others are walking

  5. The “Shamble” (my term for a group of Zombies) does not act out of anything except perfect swarm behaviour. While acting as a swarm, insects, small rodents, even zombies can appear intelligent and altrustic. However what we are seeing is not the behaviour of an individual, we are seeing collective behaviour. The swarm, in this case, the shamble, is made up on individual creatures driven by the same desire (zombies, of course, to eat).

    I would say even the most simple insect performs more intelligent tasks and will sacrifice itself for the good of the collective. Zombies just want to eat you.

  6. An interesting side note on this thought could be the “age” or better state of decay of the undead who is sacrificing itself. It leads to the question of how long a zombie would be viable to the hunt, and if reaching a certain level in the collective understanding (of the organism that is existing in the decease) that makes that sacrifice advantagous to the greater group.

    In a way it would be somewhat similar to the spawning of salmon, in that it is near the end of its life (or death) cycle and does what is necessary for the continued survival in a act that would lead to “spawning” and addition of new generations

    • Side note, by the term collective I do not mean the larger group of Zs but rather the initiating or internalized virus in which this behavior would be hardwired and has taken control of a single entity

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