Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Physical Strength and Politico-Economic Attitudes: An Attempt to Replicate

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Physical Strength and Politico-Economic Attitudes: An Attempt to Replicate

Article excerpt

Books appearing in the 1970s (Dawkins, 1976; Hinde, 1975; Wilson, 1975) helped nudge many social and behavioral scientists toward an evolutionary approach to the study of human behavior. More recently, attention has been given to the possibility that even political attitudes could have evolutionary underpinnings (D'Onofrio et al., 1999; Hatemi et al., 2011; Oxley et al., 2008).

In this evolutionary spirit, one recent study reported that upper-body strength among males was positively correlated with tendencies to oppose economic redistribution policies, especially among males from upper status backgrounds (Petersen et al., 2013). The researchers interpreted their finding as indicating that physically strong high status males have been naturally selected for adopting selfish anti-equality financial attitudes, while weaker and often low status males gravitate toward attitudes that are relatively pro-egalitarian.

An earlier study reached a similar conclusion (Price et al., 2011). It found that muscularity among males was inversely associated with various egalitarian attitudes, while the same correlations for females were not significant. The authors of this study also interpreted their findings in evolutionary terms. They proposed that over the long course of human evolution, muscular males would have been better at competing for resources, which would in turn have attracted females, thereby increasing the reproductive success of relatively strong males (also see Kunovich and Slomczynski, 2007; Ritzman and Tomaskovic-Devey, 1992).

The present study sought to confirm and extend the findings reported by Petersen et al. (2013) and Price et al. (2011). In particular, we tested the hypothesis that physical strength, at least among males, is inversely correlated with attitudes favoring economic egalitarianism.



The data used in the present study were collected between 1988 through 1998 as part of a broad-ranging investigation of attitudes and behavior. Respondents consisted of 3,786 male and 7,697 female college students from twenty United States and two Canadian universities who kindly completed a ten-page questionnaire. The age range of the respondents was 18 to 56, with a mean of 22.55. In terms of race and ethnicity, the respondents were 85% white, 4% black, 2% Native American, 2% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% Hispanic, with the remaining 6% providing no, or no intelligible, response. (For details about the respondents and data collection procedures, see Ellis and Cole-Harding, 2001).


Petersen et al. (2013) operationalized upper-body strength in terms of "the circumference of the flexed bicep of the dominant arm". Price et al. (2011, p. 637) used scanned measures of "bicep circumference, horizontal shoulder circumference, and chest circumference" as their upper-body muscularity measure. In the present study, respondents were asked to self-report (a) their overall physical strength, (b) their upper-body strength, and (c) their lower-body strength. In all three cases, they were allowed to respond using a 100-point scale, with 1 representing the lowest score possible and 100 representing the highest score possible. The validity and reliability of self-reported strength measures are obviously an issue. In this regard, research has indicated that people are highly accurate in judging the strength of others based merely on photographs (Sell, Cosmides et al., 2009). If so, one would expect individuals to be similarly accurate in assessing their own strength. Furthermore, self-assessed physical strength has been shown to positively correlate to at least moderate degrees with objectively measured physical endurance, even within each gender (Hagger, Biddle and Wang, 2005; Raudsepp, Liblik and Hannus, 2002). Also, a study by Sell, Tooby and Cosmides (2009) found a .66 correlation between self-reported physical strength and objectively measured weight-lifting strength.

To assess attitudes toward socioeconomic equality of various types, the following nine statements were presented to respondents so they could rate the degree to which they agreed with each statement on a 100-point scale:

1. …

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