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    Physical Strength And Political Conservatism Co-Evolved, Say Social Scientists
    By News Staff | May 15th 2013 09:39 AM | 22 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    If you are physically strong, social science scholars believe they can predict whether or not you are more conservative than other men.

    This might seem obvious. Fitness takes a lot of individual initiative, the government can do all of the outreach programs and legislate all of the soda cups they want, but it won't make people exercise. Super-fit people have to be conservative when it comes to their own exercise, even if they are liberal about money. 

    Michael Bang Petersen, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Government at Aarhus University, and evolutionary psychology colleagues at UC Santa Barbara say the strength/politics connection is due to evolution, which is sure to annoy biologists.

    Men's upper-body strength predicts their political opinions on economic redistribution, they write, and they believe that the link may reflect psychological traits that evolved in response to our early ancestral environments and continue to influence behavior today.

    "While many think of politics as a modern phenomenon, it has — in a sense — always been with our species," says Petersen. Few people would argue that politics has not always been with us, and we have always evolved. They must be linked?

    In the days of our early ancestors, they say, decisions about the distribution of resources weren't made in courthouses or legislative offices, but through shows of strength. With this in mind, the scholars hypothesized that upper-body strength — a proxy for the ability to physically defend or acquire resources — would predict men's opinions about economic redistribution.

    So they surveyed hundred of people in America, Denmark and Argentina about bicep size, socioeconomic status, and support for economic redistribution. Their belief was that since bicep size as a proxy for upper body strength is irrelevant to payoffs from economic policies in modern mass democracies - might no longer makes right - anyone who wants to be strong is likely to have political decision making shaped by an evolved psychology designed for small-scale groups.

    In line with their hypotheses, the data revealed that wealthy men with big biceps were less likely to support redistribution, while less wealthy men of the same strength were more likely to support it. In other words, richer men with big biceps supported lower taxes while poorer men with big biceps wanted higher taxes - on the rich. But men with tiny biceps were less adamant on both sides, they weren't as fanatical about socialism or capitalism.

    "Despite the fact that the United States, Denmark and Argentina have very different welfare systems, we still see that — at the psychological level — individuals reason about welfare redistribution in the same way," says Petersen. "In all three countries, physically strong males consistently pursue the self-interested position on redistribution.

    "Our results demonstrate that physically weak males are more reluctant than physically strong males to assert their self-interest — just as if disputes over national policies were a matter of direct physical confrontation among small numbers of individuals, rather than abstract electoral dynamics among millions." 

    No link was found between upper-body strength and redistribution opinions among women. Petersen argues that this is likely due to the fact that, over the course of evolutionary history, women had less to gain, and also more to lose, from engaging in direct physical aggression.


    Whereas some biologists think nothing in biology has functions, evolutionary psychologists (and at least one political scientist and criminologist) believe everything in culture, psychology and decision-making is predetermined by inheritance. The psychology and political science scholars say the results indicate that an evolutionary perspective may help to illuminate political motivations, at least those of men.

    "Many previous studies have shown that people's political views cannot be predicted by standard economic models," Petersen explains. "This is among the first studies to show that political views may be rational in another sense, in that they're designed by natural selection to function in the conditions recurrent over human evolutionary history."

    So Republicans shouldn't be conducting voter registrations outside the IRS office, like they do now, they should be doing them outside the gym.


    Petersen, M. B, Sznycer, D., Sell, A., Cosmides, L.,&Tooby, J. 'The ancestral logic of politics: Upper body strength regulates men’s assertion of self-interest over economic redistribution', Psychological Science doi: 10.1177/0956797612466415


    Comments

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Now here's a possibly interesting scientific study. Survey men with small biceps about their political opinions on economic redistribution etc, feed them anabolic steroids until they have large biceps and then survey them again and compare the differences, then try to extrapolate the implications :)
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Another nitwit evolutionary psychologist. 
    Men's upper-body strength predicts their political opinions on economic redistribution, they write, and they believe that the link may reflect psychological traits that evolved in response to our early ancestral environments and continue to influence behavior today.
    The only real upper body strength needed here is to get them a hefty head-slap and perhaps knock some sense into them.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Ha ha, very funny Gerhard. You look like you have pretty big biceps in your avatar photo, maybe you wouldn't have dared to say that if you didn't? BTW I have pretty strong biceps too, I have always been good at arm wrestling, even against men with big biceps and even when I was quite skinny. 
    Personally I don't think that measuring biceps is the best way to estimate arm strength, especially as some people with smaller biceps can beat those with bigger biceps in arm wrestling. Yet another reason its probably a flawed study! 
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Again, what does the discipline to exercise have to do with it?  Are they suggesting that learning a musical instrument doesn't require dedication and persistence?  How about studying?

    The point is that they picked one insignificant trait and decided to pin it to some arbitrary political designation and then removed all meaning from the political concepts of conservative and liberal.  It's simply more EP nonsense.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Personally I don't think that measuring biceps is the best way to estimate arm strength...
    Which is why I suggested the head-slap.  Then after a few rounds we could see if the researchers had acquired sense more directly proportional to the power of the slap, or whether it just knocked them out [which would be a big improvement].
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Now you are starting to sound quite aggressive, you haven't recently joined a gym or taken up oil painting have you? How close is your nearest coal fired power station and natural gas fracking site? I think I am very lucky to be living far from the madding crowd, breathing unpolluted air blowing straight from the large Tasman Sea east of Byron Bay, which might be why I am so sane? Though nearby Mullumbimby is famous for its 'Mullum Madness' marijuana ;)
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    logicman
    living far from the madding crowd, breathing unpolluted air ...
    which might be why I am so sane?

    I live in a crowded metrolopis and there's nothing wrong with my brian.  ;-)
    logicman
    Men's upper-body strength predicts their political opinions on economic redistribution
    Translation:
    strength = gimme
    weakness = yessir

    but you knew that already, didn't you ?
    This study was certain to offend some; in many ways, the responses are as interesting and worthy of study as the study results. Since the Scopes monkey trial and the discovery of a round earth, science has always challenged people's self-concept or desire to see themselves or the world a certain way. Science, even if verified by statistically significant study designs, challenges our self-concepts and views of ourselves.

    Physically weaker liberal men should not feel ashamed or deeply fearful of this study. Many liberal men are quite proficient at sleeping with women, Machiavellian arts, political science, and flattery. As Helen seems to imply, her ideal man is lover of women, not a warrior on men. Perhaps being a liberal man does have its rewards, if one looks at what many liberal and progressive women are saying they prefer.

    Hank
    Your jabs are certainly clever but it is instead saying that physically powerful men believe more strongly in their politics as well, not that wimpy guys are always liberals. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Governor of California, had more Kennedy's at his inauguration than JFK did but no one would call him wimpy.
    Gerhard Adam
    If it were only as simple as how one views themselves, but then ... bullshit is still bullshit and no matter how high you pile it, that won't turn it into data.

    So, while these EP "scientists" are busy trying to figure out what they even mean by "upper body strength", the rest of the world already recognizes that their study is nonsensical and no matter how often they thump their chests to declare correlation, there is no evolutionary component to it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    So, while these EP "scientists" are busy trying to figure out what they even mean by "upper body strength", the rest of the world already recognizes that their study is nonsensical and no matter how often they thump their chests to declare correlation, there is no evolutionary component to it.
    This guy on steroids gets into several rages simply denying that 'roid rages' exist, he is a good anecdotal example of a guy with big biceps, aggressively asserting his political views. Absolutely no evidence of an evolutionary component but definitely a correlation :)
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    If you want to invoke steroids, how about alcohol?  How about heroin?  How about amphetamines?  Take your pick if the issue is simply that drugs can modify behaviors.

    What if I claimed that there was a correlation with fat tubby guys being loud-mouthed conservatives.  Would that work?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I don't want to invoke anything, especially as to invoke means 'to summon into action or bring into existence, often by magic. It may also refer to call upon a person, especially God for help, assistance or guidance or to appeal for validation to a notably cited authority. It is mostly used in the spiritual world by people who believe in supernatural powers.' as I'm strictly scientific these days.

    I was agreeing with you, in case you hadn't noticed and sharing an amusing Youtube that I found. Hopefully the guy in it won't notice any extra traffic and turn up here :) 

    Anyway, what happened to our bet about heavy metal poisoning being scientifically correlated or implicated in just one of the many rape and assault cases you mentioned on the coal powered pollution suicide correlation blog? 

    You know how at the bottom of every comment I make there's the 'make love not war' sub comment? Well how about if you lose the bet, you have to add one saying 'but sometimes I'm wrong.'? Ha ha, now that would be really funny!
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    logicman
    Far be it from me to stir the pot (wink) but I do recall a study from way back, when I was studying statistics against my better judgement.  It seems that there was a statistically significant correlation between heart disease and men who wore gold pocket watches.  The authors concluded that gold watches cause heart disease.
    Gerhard Adam
    Well how about if you lose the bet, you have to add one saying 'but sometimes I'm wrong.'? Ha ha, now that would be really funny!
    You want me to lie?  :)
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    No I want you to make a bet and then pay the appropriate forfeit if you lose. What would mine be if I lose, before i agree to anything?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    logicman
    What would mine be if I lose, before i agree to anything?

    Free e-beer for life.
    rholley
    “Roid rage”?
     
    How about this bassoon quartet, Reed Rage?
     
     
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    logicman
    We could have a lot of fun with this.

    Slapping with a wet fish: rudd rage.
    Two fishermen arguing: rod rage.
    A fight over tangled anchor ropes: rode rage.

    ( Ducks and runs.)
    (If the comments aren't enough of an indication...) I think the beginning of this article is poorly written (unclear; seems to mislead upon first glance, whether or not technically correct.) As others have mentioned, the study/author is NOT saying that big guys are more conservative, and liberals are puny wimps. It's saying physically imposing men tend to be more politically 'imposing' as well. Honestly I try not to be mean but most often I'd rather throw Evolutionary Psychology into the pit containing certain other disciplines I find...less than compelling. Of course the problem is that just about anything can be made to sound plausible when the only litmus test is on the imaginary cavemen in our heads.

    I guess to consider the claims at hand though, could it alternatively be something like: the kind of men that tend to be bulked up (through lifestyle decisions, genetics, type of employment/hobbies--however) tend to be more aggressive and assertive overall (perhaps due to hormones, or even the way other members of society tend to perceive-and therefore respond to them, etc. and so on). Therefore you might expect them to be more imposing/dominant in their expression of political ideology, BUT were one to survey anything else (taste in music, characterization of personal loyalties?)..). , the same big man/small man bias would emerge, with strong men taking a stronger stand. [And since the above is such an obvious alternative hypothesis, the authors may well address it in the literature....fortunately for me, though: that has completely_nothing_to do with me 'caring'!] :-p

    Gerhard Adam
    The problem with that suggestion is that one has to consider that at some point these people were NOT bulked up.  Consequently one could make the same argument for anyone that elects to practice self-discipline to achieve some objective.

    What is significant about working out in a gym versus working out at a piano or any number of other goals?  The point is that bulking up is so ill-defined as to be meaningless.  Certainly one might make an argument that someone's size may affect their self-image which may, in turn, affect their behavior towards others.  But then, how is this any different than all the self-help, self-esteem crap that everyone has been peddling for decades?

    In any case, a real study into this area is far more complicated than the simplistic pronouncements afforded by this paper.
    Mundus vult decipi