Physical strength predicts participation in political violence among men and women

According to a new study published in Human evolution and behavior. The results indicate that force plays a role in people’s willingness to use force to support a political cause.

A number of previous studies have shown that greater physical strength is associated with increased aggressiveness and dominance. But there is little research examining whether physical strength correlates with political opinions and behavior.

“I study political violence. I am interested in the reasons why people support or engage in violent anti-government protests, armed civil conflicts and other forms of political violence. My research combines political science and psychology, ”said Henrikas Bartusevičius, senior researcher at the Oslo Peace Research Institute and author of the new study.

“Recently, I came across an interesting line of research, informed by evolutionary psychology, showing that physically stronger men are more aggressive. From that, I wanted to know if physically stronger men were also more aggressive in politics, especially if they were motivated to engage in violent anti-government protests. “

For the new research, Bartusevičius interviewed 2,170 adults from South Africa, 1,000 from Venezuela, 1,574 from Nicaragua and 1,539 from the United States. The survey asked participants about their participation in political protests, their participation in political violence in the past year, and their future intentions to engage in political violence. The survey also asked, “How physically strong are you compared to other people of your gender? “

After controlling for gender, age, education, and subjective socioeconomic status, Bartusevičius found that perceived strength was associated with both participation in political violence and intention to engage in political violence. political violence. He also found that gender and age influenced the relationship between perceived strength and political violence.

“I found that men (compared to women) and young people (compared to older people) were also more motivated to engage in violence. The three variables (strength, sex and age), combined, explained a substantial variation in people’s motivations for violence, ”Bartusevičius told PsyPost.

“The main takeaway from these results is that by simply examining a basic set of individual differences, we can explain a considerable amount of variation in people’s willingness to engage in contemporary political violence. Conventional explanations of political violence emphasize nuanced political, economic, cultural and environmental factors.

“My research suggests that we should not overlook the role of basic individual characteristics, especially those that have been shown to be related to aggression in the interpersonal realm. In short, variables related to interpersonal aggressiveness are also variables that are likely related to the use of aggression in politics, ”explained Bartusevičius.

The conclusions are in agreement with another study published this year, which revealed that physical force predicted approval of military action to resolve global conflicts.

Bartusevičius found that perceived strength was associated with political violence among men and women. Previous research, on the other hand, has “shown that stronger men (but not stronger women) are more aggressive in dyadic (one-on-one) conflicts,” he explained. “It alludes to the differences between dyadic aggression and modern forms of coalition aggression, such as violent anti-government protests.”

Of course, physical strength is only one of the many factors associated with political violence. “The correlations between strength and motivations for political violence were weak,” Bartusevičius said. “This implies that physical strength plays only a small role in the decision to participate in such violence. In our other studies, we identified a range of variables that were associated with political violence much more strongly than physical force.

“One of these variables is the political orientation of the people (for example, the preference for an autocratic or democratic form of governance). This, however, should not come as a surprise: political violence involves incompatibilities on complex political issues, and it therefore seems natural that people’s orientations towards these issues play a greater role in their motivations to engage in politics. political violence. What is more striking is that strength – a physiological characteristic – plays a significant role in such complex motivations.

The study was correlational, meaning that no causal inference can be made at this point. “We do not know whether force causally increases the motivations for violence or, failing that, whether some other characteristic (for example, the tendency to take risks) increases the perceived force and the motivations for political violence,” explained Bartusevičius.

“Therefore, future research should explore ways to assess whether force is causally related to motivations for violence. In addition, future studies should explore the role of force (and other characteristics) of political leaders, whose decisions about political violence (e.g., to initiate it or not) could have far more consequences than those of political leaders. ordinary citizens.

The study, “Physical strength predicts political violenceWas published online on May 10, 2021.


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