Men’s Physical Strength Moderates Conceptualizations of Prospective Foes in Two Disparate Societies
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- Fessler, D.M.T., Holbrook, C. & Gervais, M.M. Hum Nat (2014) 25: 393. doi:10.1007/s12110-014-9205-4
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Across taxa, strength and size are elementary determinants of relative fighting capacity; in species with complex behavioral repertoires, numerous additional factors also contribute. When many factors must be considered simultaneously, decision-making in agonistic contexts can be facilitated through the use of a summary representation. Size and strength may constitute the dimensions used to form such a representation, such that tactical advantages or liabilities influence the conceptualized size and muscularity of an antagonist. If so, and given the continued importance of physical strength in human male-male conflicts, a man’s own strength will influence his conceptualization of the absolute size and strength of an opponent. In the research reported here, male participants’ chest compression strength was compared with their estimates of the size and muscularity of an unfamiliar potential antagonist, presented either as a supporter of a rival sports team (Study 1, conducted in urban California, and Study 2, conducted in rural Fiji) or as a man armed with a handgun (Study 3, conducted in rural Fiji). Consistent with predictions, composite measures of male participants’ estimates of the size/strength of a potential antagonist were inversely correlated with the participant’s own strength. Therefore, consonant with a history wherein violent intrasexual selection has acted on human males, a man’s own physical strength influences his representations of potential antagonists.