If asked to predict which variable is most likely to predict a person’s position vis-à-vis wealth and income distribution, most people would likely answer one’s political ideology (e.g., Republican versus Democrat within the American political landscape). In a forthcoming article in Psychological Science, Michael Bang Petersen, Daniel Sznycer, Aaron Sell, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (the latter two are pioneers of evolutionary psychology) demonstrate that men’s physical strength (but not women’s) predict their attitudes toward this economic policy. Specifically, they argue that to the extent that strong men would have been more likely to forcefully pursue their self-interests in an ancestral context, men’s positions regarding economic policies in contemporary environments might exhibit a correlation between physical strength and wealth/income redistribution. Furthermore, the authors proposed that a man’s socioeconomic status (SES) would serve as a moderator of this effect. Specifically, among poor men the stronger ones would be more likely to support redistribution (as this serves their interest), whereas among their wealthy counterparts the stronger ones would be more likely to oppose it (as this serves their interest). It was further posited that these effects would not apply to women, as physical strength was of lesser relevance and value to women's evolutionary interests.
Using data from Argentina (113 males, 110 females), the United States (211 males, 275 females), and Denmark (421 males, 372 females), the authors measured the circumference of the flexed bicep of one’s dominant arm as the proxy for upper-body strength (best predictor of said strength), collected participants’ attitudes toward numerous statements dealing with economic distribution, and captured their SES. Without getting into the statistical details, the findings supported their posited hypotheses. To reiterate, physical strength as measured by bicep size was positively correlated with expressed support for redistribution among low-SES men, and negatively correlated with such support for high-SES men. These correlational effects were not operative for women. Incidentally, this constitutes my third post in three days. I am on a roll!
As someone who lives in the grand daddy of welfare societies, the findings suggest that I am a rich and physically formidable man!
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