Guess Which Political Party Has the Strongest Muscles, Literally

A recent study reveals how much a man can bench press is a greater indicator of his stance on redistribution of resources and income than his political ideology.

Professors from UC Santa Barbara and University of Aarhus in Denmark published a study "Ancestral Logic of Politics" that applies the evolutionary models of animal conflict to political opinion on taking from the rich to give to the poor.  

Participants were men and women from Argentina, the U.S., and Denmark. Researchers collected data on participants' fighting ability (measured by circumference of flexed bicep of the dominant arm), socioeconomic status (SES), and their position on redistribution of wealth.

The study is premised on the asymmetric war of attrition (AWA) model of behavioral ecology, a theory with broad applications from the study of Northern elephant seals to the war on terrorism. AWA posits that the stronger the animal, the more likely they are to bargain for more resources— the gorilla will be more assertive in taking the last bunch of bananas than the chimp. The weaker animal will also more readily give up resources they cannot defend rather than battling a stronger opponent.

In contrast, women and other female animals do not as often engage in physical aggression in conflicts of interest. The study reads, "direct physical aggression was a less rewarding strategy for women ancestrally, both because women had less to gain and more to lose from aggression, and because they were at an enduring disadvantage in aggression due to the evolved upper body strength differential between men and women." Or they preferred to watch.

The researchers hypothesized that the men with larger biceps would be more assertive in the stance that served their self-interest than those with smaller biceps. Weaker men would be more likely to support the relinquishment of demanded resources, and stronger men would want to take more than their share.

The study's data confirmed that upper body strength strongly influences men's position on redistribution of wealth, whether or not they have much to their name. Men with muscle and money were against redistribution and men with biceps of lower SES were all for it. The men's political ideology and age did not sway their stance.    

As hypothesized, women's responses revealed no statistical significance that upper body strength and SES influenced women's stance on redistribution — thereby suggesting that men and animals abide by AWA and women are exempt.

Michael Bang Peterson, one of the researchers of the study, says the results confirm that stronger men are more likely to assert their self-interest than weaker ones, "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." He adds, "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."

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Anna Hogeland

Anna is a clinical social worker with an MSW from Smith College School for Social Work and a BA in history from Bates College. She has clinical experience with adults with mental illness, obstetrics and oncology patients, and folks with all sorts of neuroses. She is currently a Post-Master’s fellow at CU Boulder’s counseling center. While not at her day job, Anna is writing and reading about anything and everything or making pottery. She's a native of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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