A new Danish study finds that men with large upper-bodies have a tendency to favor inequality in society and limited redistribution of resources.
The researchers say the new results may help explain the paradox of why some men with limited financial resources still favor financial inequality although they would in fact benefit from a greater redistribution of resources.
“Our analysis suggests that these men expect to be able to rise in the hierarchy on their own. And once they reach the top of the hierarchy, an unequal society will increase their chances of maintaining that position,” said Associate Professor Lasse Laustsen from the department of political science at Aarhus University in Denmark.
“This logic was adaptive under the conditions of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, as stronger men here would have been able to secure resources on their own. But it’s an irrational way of dealing with modern day political resource conflicts.”
“Today, physical strength is highly unlikely to affect how big a share of society’s resources you are able to acquire. However, our data shows that physical strength nonetheless continues to affect men’s political attitudes towards redistribution.”
The new study involves humans, but the overall theory stems from the findings of well-documented animal research showing that physical strength shapes the conflict behavior of animals. In other words, when animals are larger and stronger than their rivals, they are more likely to assert themselves in the struggle for status and resources. But when they are weaker than their competitors, they are more likely to pull away from the conflict.
According to the new study, the same logic applies to modern men when they reason about political conflicts regarding the redistribution of resources in society.
Importantly, the researchers cannot say with absolute certainty that the effect is purely one-way — that physical strength leads to political attitude. The effect can also go the other way.
“We cannot rule out that men with right-wing attitudes are also more prone to go to the gym. That being said, however, there are strong indications that attitudes are actually shaped by physical strength and not the other way round,” said Professor Michael Bang Petersen from the department of political science.
Previous studies have shown that men tend to become more aggressive as their physical strength increases. Research has also found a link between men’s physical strength and their attitudes towards inequality even when exercise habits are taken into account.
Similarly, in the new study, researchers conducted an experiment with a group of men who trained their upper-bodies for two months. During this period, these men became more positive towards inequality.
Overall, the study builds on data from 6,349 people of different nationalities. 1,875 of the respondents are Danish, and the rest are Belarussians residing in Lithuania, Americans, Venezuelans, Ukrainians and Poles.
The data was gathered between 2012 and 2017. During this period, when conducting studies on various political attitudes, the researchers also measured and asked respondents about their physical strength.
Earlier studies have investigated the link between men’s physical strength and their attitude towards the level of equality in society. However, those findings pointed in different directions. In a previous study, for example, Petersen found that physical strength only increased support for inequality among wealthy men, while it decreased support for inequality among men of limited financial means.
The data was pulled from 12 studies that applied a variety of research methods. Some studies relied on questionnaires and participants were asked to evaluate their own strength compared to others of the same sex. Other studies took place in the laboratory and researchers were able to obtain objective measures of, for example, chest strength and handgrip strength.
“The objective laboratory studies actually show a stronger correlation between physical strength and political attitudes than the respondents’ own subjective evaluations. This supports that raw physical strength is indeed the decisive factor,” Laustsen said.
The study involved both men and women, but no link was found between physical strength in women and their political attitudes.
The study is published in the journal Political Psychology.
Source: Aarhus University