May 26, 2010

Evolutionarily speaking, everything old is new again

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:46

An idea that seemed fairly common in the 1960s and 70s appears to be regaining credibility:

When two drunken men fight over a woman, alcohol and stupidity may not be the only things at work. Sadly, evolution may have shaped men to behave this way. Almost all of the traits considered to be masculine — big muscles, facial hair, square jaws, deep voices and a propensity to violence — evolved, it now seems, specifically for their usefulness in fighting off or intimidating other men, allowing the winner to get the girl.

That, at least, is the contention of David Puts, an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University, in an upcoming paper in Evolution and Human Behavior. Dr Puts is looking at how sexual selection gave rise to certain human traits. A trait is sexually selected if it evolved specifically to enhance mating success. They come in two main forms: weapons, such as an elk’s horns are used to fight off competitors; and ornaments, like a peacock’s tail, which are used to advertise genetic fitness to attract the opposite sex.

Researchers have tended to consider human sexual selection through the lens of the female’s choice of her mate. But human males look a lot more like animals designed to battle with one another for access to females, says Dr Puts. On average, men have 40% more fat-free mass than women, which is similar to the difference in gorillas, a species in which males unquestionably compete with other males for exclusive sexual access to females. In species whose males do not fight for access to females, males are generally the same size as, or smaller than, females.


  1. “An idea that seemed fairly common in the 1960s and 70s…”
    References please?

    Comment by Factor1 — May 30, 2010 @ 00:13

  2. Sorry, I don’t have anything to hand. Just personal recollection of what was being discussed in that time. I remember it being mentioned in an Anthropology interest course I took, but this was high school level, not university.

    Comment by Nicholas — May 30, 2010 @ 12:45

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