Friday, July 19, 2013

An ancestral logic of politics?

Another evolutionary psychology speculation: If individual dispositions about modern political conflicts are partly generated by evolved mechanisms designed for evolutionarily recurrent conditions, then men with greater upper-body strength should be more likely to adopt political positions that increase their share of resources, whereas men with lesser upper-body strength should be more likely to adopt positions that relinquish resources demanded by other individuals. Peterson et al. test this speculation:
Over human evolutionary history, upper-body strength has been a major component of fighting ability. Evolutionary models of animal conflict predict that actors with greater fighting ability will more actively attempt to acquire or defend resources than less formidable contestants will. Here, we applied these models to political decision making about redistribution of income and wealth among modern humans. In studies conducted in Argentina, Denmark, and the United States, men with greater upper-body strength more strongly endorsed the self-beneficial position: Among men of lower socioeconomic status (SES), strength predicted increased support for redistribution; among men of higher SES, strength predicted increased opposition to redistribution. Because personal upper-body strength is irrelevant to payoffs from economic policies in modern mass democracies, the continuing role of strength suggests that modern political decision making is shaped by an evolved psychology designed for small-scale groups.

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