The Stronger Men Are, the More They Act in Their Own Self-Interest

Here’s a kind of “Dating Quiz” for the women in the audience. Imagine the following scenario. You’re a successful woman, looking for a man you share your life with. You’re also fairly liberal, with strong political beliefs that those who are more fortunate in life have a responsibility to share some of that wealth with those who are less fortunate. Over the years, you’ve found that you rarely find happiness with men who don’t share that basic belief.

So you’re out for a night on the town and across the room you see a guy who looks like a likely prospect. Although the “dress down” attire at the club or disco you’re in doesn’t allow you to determine whether he’s wealthy or just well-to-do-enough to afford to be here, he’s attractive. Furthermore, he looks as if he takes care of himself physically; he’s in good shape, and his short-sleeve shirt reveals some admirably pumped-up biceps. Should you give him a try?

If you said “Yes,” given your liberal sensitivities, a new study published in Psychological Science says that you’d probably be wrong. He’d probably be opposed to the idea of sharing any wealth or good fortune he’d achieved with anyone else. And it was the bulging biceps that were the tipoff.

The thing stronger men feel strongest about is their own self-interest

In the study, Danish researcher Michael Petersen and American researcher Daniel Sznycer surveyed 793 Danes, 223 Argentinians, and 486 Americans, comparing their political beliefs to other data they’d collected on their social status and physical strength. They determined the subjects’ status from questionnaires about their economic status, and their upper-body strength by a measure that has been proven to give an accurate measure of it in both men and women – biceps size. They then asked the subjects in each of the surveyed countries to agree or disagree with statements such as “It is not fair that people have to pay taxes to fund welfare programs” and “The wealthy should give more money to those who are worse off.”

What they found was fascinating. Regardless of the country they were from, the stronger men consistently argued for their own self-interest – those at the lower end of the economic spectrum approved of the redistribution of wealth, while those in the higher income brackets were against it. Men with lower upper-body strength (as measured by smaller biceps) were not as likely to argue for their own self-interest, and more likely to argue for sharing the wealth. The researchers found no correlation between strength and these political opinions in women. Their political beliefs were more along economic status lines; women with money wanted to keep it, and women without money wanted to get more of it.

The researchers theorized that this difference in the sexes is probably tied to their respective roles in evolution. The main title of their paper is, in fact, The Ancestral Logic of Politics. In earlier human societies, men who were stronger and thus better at fighting for scare resources were probably the ones who got to control most of them. Their strength entitled them to “more,” and over the generations their offspring inherited not only their physical characteristics, but their sense of entitlement – “The stronger I am, the more I deserve.” Women in these early cultures did not have as much of their economic status dependent on physical strength, and so probably didn’t develop as much of a sense of entitlement about more strength being equivalent to “deserving more.”

Is this study still relevant to our modern world?

It is tempting for us to believe that it isn’t, and that as human beings we’ve evolved past men believing that greater physical strength and wealth gives them the “right” to have and hold onto more than people with less physical strength and wealth. Surely modern men – much less modern politicians – don’t have their politics determined by such a simplistic formula.

I thought this until I spent a few minutes on Google Images looking up photos of politicians flexing their biceps. I admit that this is not by any means a “scientific study,” but what I found was photo after photo of modern conservative politicians whose names and platforms are synonymous with being strongly against asking the rich to pay their fair share of taxes or share some of their wealth with the poor, all shirtless and grinning and flexing their biceps for the camera. I couldn’t find any photos of more liberal male politicians doing the same thing.

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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