•After sports matches, male opponents engage in friendly touches longer than females •Male winners and losers make more friendly touches than their female counterpartsSummary
The nature of ancestral human social structure and the circumstances in which men or women tend to be more cooperative are subjects of intense debate. The male warrior hypothesis proposes that success in intergroup contests has been vital in human evolution and that men therefore must engage in maximally effective intragroup cooperation. Post-conflict affiliation between opponents is further proposed to facilitate future cooperation, which has been demonstrated in non-human primates and humans. The sex that invests more in post-conflict affiliation, therefore, should cooperate more. Supportive evidence comes from chimpanzees, a close genetic relative to humans that also engages in male intergroup aggression. Here we apply this principle to humans by testing the hypothesis that among members of a large community, following a conflict, males are predisposed to be more ready than females to repair their relationship via friendly contact. We took high-level sports matches as a proxy for intragroup conflict, because they occur within a large organization and constitute semi-naturalistic, standardized, aggressive, and intense confrontations. Duration or frequency of peaceful physical contacts served as the measure of post-conflict affiliation because they are strongly associated with pro-social intentions. Across tennis, table tennis, badminton, and boxing, with participants from 44 countries, duration of post-conflict affiliation was longer for males than females. Our results indicate that unrelated human males are more predisposed than females to invest in a behavior, post-conflict affiliation, that is expected to facilitate future intragroup cooperation.