Category Archives for "Evolutionary Psychology"

Evolutionary Psychology

Upper body strength, anger and settling disputes

I came across this interesting video on Zurich Minds – it’s about social motivation (external stimuli) and how it affects internal regulatory variables in humans. More precisely the talks is about the ancestrally-traceable relationship between what scientists call Welfare Trade-off Ratio (how we expect others to treat us) and anger.

The talk was given by John Tooby, an anthropologist at the University of California.

The talks is totally worth watching. I can’t embed it but here is a direct link to it. There are actually two talks by two researchers in one video. The one that I’m referring to starts at around 17.21 minute.

I am not going to venture into discussing anger levels, physical appearance, who feels more entitled and why – I’ll leave that to the scientist himself. I took some notes for myself and I thought I should post them here.  I’ve marked in bold the important terms, as well as what I found very interesting (in the last 8 or so bullets).

  • Anger is an expression for resolving conflicts of interests in favor of the angry individual.
  • Anger evolved as an instrument for bargaining.
  • We all have a non-conscious variable in our brains that we associate with each person we know, called Welfare Trade-off Ratio (WTR) – it’s the amount of weight we put on that person’s welfare.
  • At any given time we have a specific WTR with specific weight towards a specific person. We also detect the weight of WTR from others towards us. We have a level of expectation of how others should treat us at any given moment. And, they can treat us below this level, at this level or above this level.
  • Each action toward us has cost and benefit associated with it.
  • Anger is triggered when we detect that somebody is putting low weight on our welfare.
  • We have two tools for social negotiation (for resetting someone’s low WTR towards us): 1) inflict higher costs (inflict harm) to the other party (in non-cooperative relationships), and 2) diminish benefits for the other party (in cooperative relationships).
  • Highly important among our ancestors was upper body strength – a sign of ability to inflict higher costs.
  • People (especially men) subconsciously register the level of upper body strength of the other party.
  • The greater the upper body strength of an individual, the more prone they are of expressing anger, to feel entitled to better treatment and to resort to more anger if they don’t get treated in the expected way.
  • Stronger men consider settling disputes with force a more effective way of going about it than men who are weaker.
  • Stronger men report more success in conflicts of interest.
  • Ancestrally, upper body strength would be a regulator of what resources we can cease or what resources we can defend.
  • Stronger working-class men are more in favor of economic redistribution of wealth than weaker working-class men.
  • Wealthier men who are stronger are more opposed to economic redistribution of wealth than are weaker wealthy men.

Generally, my take-away is it pays ‘big money’ to be perceived as a man of great upper body strength. Although, my suspicion is that what one person perceives as a sign of superior upper body strength in another is totally different from what other person perceives as such.

Moreover, strength, it turns out could be directly perceived or implied. I especially liked the example of a mob boss sitting in a restaurant and everybody there has a high weight of WTR towards the mob boss – not because of his ‘visible’ upper body strength but because of the implied strength (the awareness of his ability to use force to settle disputes).

It’s all very interesting. If you think about it that’s exactly how it works especially in social interactions between two men, but we never think about it. To us it’s just how things work… and things worked that way for ages.

Here is the link again.