By Ray Williams

October 19, 2021

This article is undoubtedly controversial because, as some people have pointed out they’ve known muscular men who are altruistic and generous with their resources. Worth reading the research though.

Summary: A study reports physicality and political attitudes may be linked, for men at least. Researchers found more muscular men tend to prefer political attitudes that favor inequality, and the tendency to have positive attitudes toward inequality increased as upper body strength increased following months of physical training. The study, researchers report, challenges conventional belief that people’s political views are shaped by logic and reason alone.

Men with large upper-bodies have a tendency to favor inequality in society and a limited redistribution of resources. This is the conclusion drawn by Professor Michael Bang Petersen and Associate Professor Lasse Laustsen from the Department of Political Science in a study published in the journal, Political Psychology.

The results challenge the belief that our political views are formed by logic and reason alone. Instead, our views seemingly reflect intuitions produced by a Stone Age mind,” says Michael Bang Petersen.

The study concerns humans, but takes a theoretical starting point in one of the most well-documented findings in the study of animals: Physical strength shapes the conflict behavior of animals. If animals are larger and stronger than their rivals, they are prone to attempt to assert themselves in the struggle for status and resources. However, if they are weaker than their rivals, they are likely to withdraw from the conflict. According to the latest research results from Aarhus BSS, the same logic applies to modern men when they reason about political conflicts about the redistribution of resources in society.

“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,” says Lasse Laustsen.

According to the researchers, 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,” says Laustsen.

The study involves both men and women, but when it comes to women there is no link between physical strength and political attitudes. According to the researchers, this complies with the assumption that our approach to modern politics is regulated by ancestral human instincts. Just like other male animals, men have used their physical strength to achieve status, while throughout evolution, women have developed other strategies that take their lower physical strength into account.

“For that reason, the fact that the correlation is not found in women is an important result in itself,” says Petersen.

The researchers believe that their results emphasize the value of involving animal behavior and the theory of evolution in the study of political behavior.

“It’s important knowledge if we wish to understand how our political attitudes are formed. They are not just based on reason. Our intuitions are adapted to a different environment than the one we live in today. Our skulls house a Stone Age mind, and we need to appreciate that we are just one animal species among a host of others. Also in our approach to modern politics,” says Laustsen.

The researchers cannot say with absolute certainty that the effect is purely one-way — from physical strength 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,” says Petersen.

Previous research has shown that men become more aggressive as their physical strength increases. Other studies have shown that there is a correlation between men’s physical strength and their attitudes towards inequality even when exercise habits are taken into account. In addition, the new study includes an experiment conducted among a group of men who trained their upper-bodies for two months. During this period, these men became more positive towards inequality.

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 collected 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.

“Now we have gathered this data in one overall analysis. This also enabled us to revisit studies that I have conducted previously,” says Petersen.

Previous studies have explored the correlation between men’s physical strength and their attitude towards the level of equality in society. However, the results pointed in different directions. In a former study, Michael Bang Petersen found that physical strength only increased support towards inequality among wealthy men, while it decreased support for inequality among men of limited financial means.

“This study builds on a much larger data set, and our measurement of physical strength is more objective than in the previous study. In an international context, this is the most comprehensive study of its kind, and it shows a consistent positive correlation between men’s physical strength and their attitude towards inequality,” says Petersen, who apart from his position at Aarhus BSS is also affiliated with the interdisciplinary Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies.

The data comes from 12 studies that have applied a variety of methods. Some studies relied on questionnaires and participants were asked to evaluate their own strength compared to others of the same sex. Other studies were conducted 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 concludes.

Read my new book, available on Amazon:Toxic Bosses: Practical Wisdom for Developing Wise, Moral and Ethical Leaders, where I examine in detail the impact that toxic bosses have on employee well-being.

Ray's latest blog posts

How Belief in Conspiracies Erodes Society

Particularly in American politics, conspiracy theories and the number of people who believe in them appear to be increasing daily. A 2019 poll from Insider found that nearly 80% of people in the United States follow at least one unproven theory, conspiracy or not. The...

Deciding Right from Wrong: Why Ethics is so Important

In the television show “The Good Place,” a dead philosopher named Chidi tries to make his fellow citizens into better people by exposing them to the concerns of moral philosophers. This involves the “trolley dilemma.” And it illustrates the...

People Who Apologize Frequently are Seen As More Warm and Sincere

Everyone is familiar with someone who constantly apologizes (maybe you are one).  This is the opening sentence of an intriguing new study by Karina Schumann and colleagues published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, that investigates how people...

Why Success is Fueled by Self-Compassion Rather Than Self-Esteem

Remember the last time you failed or made a crucial error. Do you still feel embarrassed and chastise yourself for being so foolish or self-centered? Do you frequently feel isolated in that mistake, as if you were the only one who made a mistake? Or do you try to...

Who are Better Leaders—Extroverts or Introverts?

Organizations, pop culture and the media are dominated by extroverts. We tend to reward extroverts who enjoy human interactions and tend to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, and gregarious. Extroverts are energized and thrive off being around other people. They...

Join our Newsletter for a FREE copy of Breaking Bad Habits e-Book by Ray