Are Men Built for Combat?
Male elk have antlers. Rams have horns. Men have upper arm strength. All because fighting has been an age-old part of the evolutionary history of men, according to a new study.
As well as outlining the biological differences between males and females, the study shows a genetic basis for physical combat between men.
Far from being a net negative, such combat, when practiced in a controlled group setting, can afford men with a greater sense of self-esteem, purpose, friendships and discipline.
“In mammals in general,” says U professor David Carrier of the School of Biological Sciences, “the difference between males and females is often greatest in the structures that are used as weapons.”
For years, Carrier has been exploring the hypothesis that generations of interpersonal male-male aggression long in the past have shaped structures in human bodies to specialize for success in fighting.
Past work has shown that the proportions of the hand aren’t just for manual dexterity – they also protect the hand when it’s formed into a fist.
Other studies looked at the strength of the bones of the face (as a likely target of a punch) and how our heels, planted on the ground, can confer additional upper body power.
“One of the predictions that comes out of those,” Carrier says, “is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch.”
A legacy of combat
It may be an uncomfortable thought for some to consider that men may be designed for fighting.
That doesn’t mean, however, that men today are destined to live violent lives.
“Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right?” Carrier says.
“There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help.”