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Discuss one or more evolutionary explanations of group display in humans.
(8 marks + 16 marks)
In spots, xenophobia is an evolutionary explanation of group displays of aggression because natural
selection favours genes that make humans more altruistic towards members of their own group, yet
intolerant towards outsiders. It would be adaptive to exaggerate negative stereotypes about
outsiders, as the over-perception of threat would be less costly than under-perception.
Balestri et al analysed the behaviour of Italian football crowds and found evidence of xenophobic
tendencies. Group displays were characterised by racist chants and openly anti-Semitic banners.
Research support for xenophobia in group displays comes from Foldesi who also found intolerance
towards outsiders in a study of Hungarian football crowds, with violent incidents based on racist or
xenophobic attitudes being displayed across all stadiums. Gypsies, Jews and Russians were the usual
targets in Foldesi's findings, therefore supporting how xenophobia as an adaptive response is still
present in humans.
As a result, real world applications can be drawn from this research into xenophobia because the
xenophobic aggression has motivated football officials to minimise its influence. For example in 1992
all the teams in the German Bundelsleague played in shirts displaying the slogan "My friend is a
foreigner". Also, in Scotland, Celtic and Ranger football teams have introduced a campaign to
abandon their long-standing tradition of signing only Catholic players.
Through integration, aggressive responses in group displays have been minimised which improves
the harmony of people and is therefore an application in sports.
Hungtingford suggested that non-human animals show threat displays towards outsiders and attack
with greater vigour when defending a home territory. This has its human equivalent in the displays of
sport teams prior to a match (for example, the Haka routine that the New Zealand rugby team
demonstrate to terrify their opponents). Aggressive displays would have been adaptive for our
ancestors as they allowed groups to defend valuable resources associated with territory.
Evidence for the power of territorial displays comes from Lewis et al who found that among football
fans, crowd support was the most significant factor contributing to a home advantage. Through their
displays of support, home fans felt responsible for inspiring their team to victory and distract
However, the precise way in which crowd group displays have an effect is not clear. For instance,
Pollard found that crowd size may not be as important as the effect was identical even with smaller
crowd sizes. Likewise, it's unclear whether the primary function of crowd group displays is to
encourage the home team or distract opponents, making Lewis's study low in internal validity
because it's not clear what's being measured.
Alternatively, group displays of aggression as an adaptive response are present in warfare. The
benefits of aggressive displays is that in a traditional monogamous society, men compete for mates
and those who do well in battle are rewarded with access to females. Displays of aggression and
bravery are attractive to females, and male warriors tend to have more sexual partners, which would
suggest a reproductive benefit.
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Research support for the sexual selection explanation is supported by Palmer et al who found that
youth street gang members have more sexual partners than other males.
This research into the sexual selection theory is reliable because it's also found in other settings, for
instance Van Gugt also found that military men have a greater sex appeal when observed in combat.
On the other hand, the evolutionary explanation of group display can be argued as a reductionist