The Importance of Physical Strength to Human Males

Abstract

Fighting ability, although recognized as fundamental to intrasexual competition in many nonhuman species, has received little attention as an explanatory variable in the social sciences. Multiple lines of evidence from archaeology, criminology, anthropology, physiology, and psychology suggest that fighting ability was a crucial aspect of intrasexual competition for ancestral human males, and this has contributed to the evolution of numerous physical and psychological sex differences. Because fighting ability was relevant to many domains of interaction, male psychology should have evolved such that a man’s attitudes and behavioral responses are calibrated according to his formidability. Data are reviewed showing that better fighters feel entitled to better outcomes, set lower thresholds for anger/aggression, have self-favoring political attitudes, and believe more in the utility of warfare. New data are presented showing that among Hollywood actors, those selected for their physical strength (i.e., action stars) are more likely to believe in the utility of warfare.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Where the terms “left” and “right” are used in the present manuscript they are intended to refer to their commonly understood meanings in the contemporary United States, where “left-leaning” refers to beliefs typically associated with the Democratic Party, including a more “dovish” approach to war, whereas “right-leaning” refers to beliefs associated with the Republican Party, including a more “hawkish” approach to war.

  2. 2.

    As with every human subject, Hollywood actors will have far more nuanced beliefs than can be captured in any dichotomous coding scheme. Kurt Russell and Clint Eastwood, for example, identify as libertarians, Bruce Willis has repudiated the religious right’s influence on the Republican Party, and Terry Bollea (“Hulk Hogan”) supported Obama and describes himself as “middle of the road” though he feels that the United States should have continued the 1990 Gulf War until Iraq was conquered. These variations may be obscured when averages or categorizations are used in statistical testing, but it is important to keep in mind (particularly because actors are identifiable public figures) that individual beliefs and attitudes will vary considerably within categories.

  3. 3.

    These measurements stem from various reports of unknown reliability and need to be treated cautiously until replicated.

References

  1. Aldrich, J. H., Gelpi, C., Feaver, P., Reifler, J., & Sharp, K. T. (2006). Foreign policy and the electoral connection. Annual Review of Political Science, 9, 477–502.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Alexander, R. D., Hoogland, J. L., Howard, R. D., Noonan, K. M., & Sherman, P. W. (1979) Sexual dimorphisms and breeding systems in pinnipeds, ungulates, primates, and humans. In N. A. Chagnon & W. Irons (Eds.), Evolutionary biology and human social behavior (pp. 402–435). North Scituate: Duxbury Press.

  3. Archer, J., & Thanzami, V. (2007). The relation between physical aggression, size and strength, among a sample of young Indian men. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 627–633.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Boehm, C. H. (1999). Hierarchy in the forest: The evolution of egalitarian behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  5. Bohannon, R. W. (1997). Reference values for extremity muscle strength obtained by hand-held dynamometry from adults aged 20 to 79 years. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 78, 26–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Brues, A. (1959). The spearman and the archer: an essay on selection in body build. American Anthropologist, 61, 457–469.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Burse, R. (1979). Sex differences in human thermoregulatory response to heat and cold stress. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 21(6), 687–699.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Cadieux, M., Barnett-Cowan, M., & Shore, D. (2010). Crossing the hands is more confusing for females than males. Experimental Brain Research, 204, 431–446.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Deaths: Final Data for 2007. National Vital Statistics Reports, 58 (19). Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_19.pdf

  10. Clutton-Brock, T., & Albon, S. (1979). The roaring of red deer and the evolution of honest advertisement. Behaviour, 69, 145–170. doi:10.1163/156853979X00449.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Davies, N., & Halliday, T. (1978). Deep croaks and fighting assessment in toads Bufo bufo. Nature, 274, 683–685. doi:10.1038/274683a02000.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Der, G., & Deary, I. (2006). Age and sex differences in reaction time in adulthood: results from the United Kingdom health and lifestyle survey. Psychology and Aging, 21(1), 62–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Eisner, M. (2001). Modernization, self-control and lethal violence: the long-term dynamics of European homicide rates in theoretical perspective. British Journal of Criminology, 41, 618–638.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Enquist, M., & Leimar, O. (1983). Evolution of fighting behaviour; decision rules and assessment of relative strength. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 102, 387–410.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Enquist, M., Leimar, O., Ljungberg, T., Mallner, Y., & Segerdahl, N. (1990). A test of the sequential assessment game: fighting in the cichlid fish Nannacara anomala. Animal Behaviour, 40, 1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Garn, S., & Clark, L. (1953). The sex difference in the basal metabolic rate. Child Development, 24, 215–224.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Gibbons, J., Lynn, M., & Stiles, D. (1997). Cross-national gender differences in adolescents’ preference for free-time activities. Cross-Cultural Research, 31(1), 55–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Gursoy, R. (2010). Sex differences in relations of muscle power, lung function, and reaction time in atheletes. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 110(3), 714–720.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hammer, M. F., Mendez, F. L., Cox, M. P., Woerer, A. E., & Wall, J. D. (2008). Sex-biased evolutionary forces shape genomic patterns of human diversity. PLoS Genetics, 4(9), e1000202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hardouin, L., Reby, D., Bavoux, C., Burneleau, G., & Bretagnolle, V. (2007). Communication of male quality in owl hoots. American Naturalist, 169, 552–562. doi:10.1086/512136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hess, N., Helfrecht, C., Hagen, E., Sell, A., & Hewlett, B. (2010). Interpersonal aggression among Aka hunter-gatherers of the Central African Republic: assessing the effects of sex, strength, and anger. Human Nature, 21, 330–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Humphrey, L. T., Dean, M. C., & Stringer, C. B. (1999). Morphological variation in great ape and modern human mandibles. Journal of Anatomy, 195, 491–513.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Jardine, R., & Martin, N. G. (1983). Spatial ability and throwing accuracy. Behavior Genetics, 13(4), 331–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Keeley, L. (1996). War before civilization. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Kelly, R. L. (1995). The foraging spectrum: Diversity in hunter-gatherer lifeways. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Kumlin, S. (2007). The welfare state: Values, policy preferences, and performance evaluations. In R. J. Dalton & H.-D. Klingemann (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of political behavior (pp. 362–382). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Lassek, W., & Gaulin, S. (2009). Costs and benefits of fat-free muscle mass in men: relationship to mating success, dietary requirements and natural immunity. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30, 322–328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Little, A., Burris, R., Jones, B. C., & Roberts, S. C. (2007). Facial appearance affects voting decisions. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28(1), 18–27.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Loomba-Albrecht, L., & Styne, D. M. (2009). Effect of puberty on body composition. Current Opinion in Endocrinology Diabetes and Obesity, 16, 10–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Low, B. (1988). Measures of polygyny in humans. Current Anthropology, 29, 189–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Lukaszewski, A., & Roney, J. (2011). The origins of extraversion: Joint effects of facultative calibration and genetic polymorphism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(3), 409–421.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Mager, J., Walcott, C., & Piper, W. (2007). Male common loons, Gavia immer, communicate body mass and condition through dominant frequencies of territorial yodels. Animal Behavior, 73, 683–690.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Marks, I. M., & Nesse, R. (1994). Fear and fitness: an evolutionary analysis of anxiety disorders. Ethology and Sociobiology, 1, 247–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Payne, J. L. (2004). A history of force. Sandpoint: Lytton.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Petersen, M. B., Sell, A., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2010). Evolutionary psychology and criminal justice: A recalibrational theory of punishment and reconciliation. In H. Høgh-Olesen (Ed.), Human morality and sociality (pp. 72–131). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  37. Price, M. E., Kang, J., Dunn, J., & Hopkins, S. (2011). Muscularity and attractiveness as predictors of human egalitarianism. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 636–640.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Rubenstein, D. I., & Hack, M. (1992). Horse signals: the sounds and scents of fury. Evolutionary Ecology, 6, 254–260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Schoenau, E., Neu, C., Rauch, F., & Manz, F. (2001). The development of bone strength at the proximal radius during childhood and adolescence. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 86(2), 613–618.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Sell, A. (2005). Regulating welfare tradeoff ratios: three tests of an evolutionary-computational model of human anger. Dissertation Abstracts International B, 66, 4516.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Sell, A. (2011). The recalibrational theory and violent anger. Aggressive and Violent Behavior, 16, 381–389.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Sell, A., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2009). Formidability and the logic of anger. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 106, 15073–15078. doi:10.1073/pnas.0904312106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Sell, A., Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., Sznycer, D., von Rueden, C., & Gurven, M. (2009). Human adaptations for the visual assessment of strength and fighting ability from the body and face. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 276, 575–584.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Sell, A., Bryant, G., Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., Sznycer, D., von Rueden, C., Krauss, A., & Gurven, M. (2010). Adaptations in humans for assessing physical strength and fighting ability from the voice. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277, 3509–3518.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Sell, A., von Rueden, C., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2012). Strength and anger among the Tsimane of Bolivia.

  46. Shuster, S., Black, M., & McVitie, E. (1975). The influence of age and sex on skin thickness, skin collagen and density. British Journal of Dermatology, 93, 639–643.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Stoll, T., Huber, E., Seifert, B., Michel, B. A., & Stucki, G. (2000). Maximum isometric muscle strength: normative values and gender-specific relation to age. Clinical Rheumatology, 19, 105–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Tanner, J. M. (1970). Physical growth. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.), Carmichael’s manual of child psychology, vol. 1 (pp. 77–155). New York: Wiley.

  49. Tanner, J. M. (1989). Foetus into man: Physical growth from conception to maturity, 2nd edition. Castlemead.

  50. Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1990). The past explains the present: emotional adaptations and the structure of ancestral environments. Ethology and Sociobiology, 11, 375–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: a meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117(2), 250–270.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Waalen, J., & Beutler, E. (2001). Haemoglobin and ferritin concentrations in men and women: cross sectional study. British Medical Journal, 325, 137.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Walker, P. (1997). Wife beating, boxing, and broken noses: skeletal evidence for the cultural patterning of interpersonal violence. In N. Martin & N. Frayer (Eds.), Troubled times: Violence and warfare in the past (pp. 145–175). London: Gordon and Breach.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Walker, P. L. (2001). A bioarchaeological perspective on the history of violence. Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, 573–596.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Watson, N., & Kimura, D. (1989). Right-hand superiority for throwing but not for intercepting. Neuropsychologia, 27(11/12), 1399–1414.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Wells, J. (2007). Sexual dimorphism of body composition. Best Practice & Research. Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 21(3), 415–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Wilson, M., Daly, M., & Pound, N. (2009). Sex differences and intrasexual variation in competitive confrontation and risk taking: An evolutionary psychological perspective. In D. W. Pfaff, A. P. Arnold, A. M. Etgen, S. E. Fahrbach, & R. T. Rubin (Eds.), Hormones, brain and behavior (2nd ed., Vol. 5, pp. 2825–2852). San Diego: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Jane Lancaster and three anonymous reviewers for helpful insights and comments. We also thank the Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance for support.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aaron Sell.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Esm 1

 (DOC 165 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sell, A., Hone, L.S.E. & Pound, N. The Importance of Physical Strength to Human Males. Hum Nat 23, 30–44 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-012-9131-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Physical strength
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Warfare
  • Income redistribution
  • Hollywood actors
  • Political attitudes