Group Displays


What is the debate?

   It is debated whether group displays of aggression (sports and warfare) have evolved through natural and sexual selection.

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Outline group displays of aggression

Proposing this hypothesis, Lehmann and Feldman (2008) argue that humans show a genetically programmed warlike nature(belligerence), which has evolved through natural and sexual selection. For example, belligerence in warfare is naturally selective as it allows nations to defend themselves and their kin, and allows access to resources necessary for survival (e.g. Natural resources, such as oil or land). Similarly, belligerence in sport is sexually selective as it allows men to compete for access to resources (e.g. Championship cups) to increase their status (intra-sexual aggression). Sporting bravery is rewarded (e.g. through high salaries or sponsorship deals), which makes men more attractive because it shows they can protect (through their physical strength) and provide for potential offspring. Therefore, high status sportsmen are able to attract numerous, fertile, high status women (e.g. WAGS) through inter-sexual selection. The same is true in warfare, where bravery is rewarded through ranks or medals. Belligerence is also shown by sports fans, who show evolved tribal behaviours. For example, by wearing their team's kit and by singing club chants fans express an in-group bias that is reminiscent of ancient tribal clothing and war songs (e.g. The Hakka, sung by the New Zealand rugby team).

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What did Maxwell and Viscek find?

Strong evidence to support evolutionary explanations of aggressive group displays comes from Maxwell and Viscek, who argue that many displays of physical strength seen in sports are related to skills required to hunt and provide (e.g. Javelin). This suggests that group displays of aggression have evolved because they are naturally and sexually selective.  Furthermore,in other research, Maxwell and Viscek also found that 144 professional rugby plays placed more emphasis on winning, than on fair play. This suggests that men do engage in belligerent acts of direct intra-sexual aggression.

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What did Allen find?

Further compelling but uncomfortable research to support evolutionary arguments of group displays of aggression comes from Allen, who found in the Bosnian war, 20,000 Bosnian women were ****d by Serbian soldiers. This shows that men engage in direct intra-sexual aggression to access numerous high status females.

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Research evidence against group displays

However, there is also convincing evidence against evolutionary factors in group aggression from Marsh, who found little evidence of actual violence amongst football supporters. This suggests the  theory may be incorrect as it suggests we are genetically pre-disposed to show aggression at all times, which is not the case in Marsh's research.

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Why are group displays culturally absolute?

Even so, being from the evolutionary approach, a strength of group displays of aggression is that they are culturally absolute because they apply equally to all cultures. This is because all humans are likely to have evolved in the same way to have a similar genetic predisposition towards aggression (which is supported by genetic research to show the role of the Q20* gene).

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Why are group displays constrained?

However, evolutionary explanations of group displays of aggression may be criticised for being constrained because they limit free will in suggesting that we are genetically motivated to show aggression, over which we have no control. Whilst this may be supported by genetic research to some extent, it ignores evidence to suggest that we can control our genetic urge to show aggression (as show by entirely non-aggressive communities such as the Amish). It also ignores recent evidence to suggest that aggression in society is diminishing(Pinker), as all cultures have become less aggressive in recent years. For example, violent crime is at its lowest level since records began in 1981. If this is the case, aggression is unlikely to be genetically predisposed.

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Why are group displays simplistic?

Furthermore, the evolutionary explanations can be criticised for being simplistic because they ignore other important influences in aggression. In particular, they ignore the role of deindividuation, which is shown in army uniforms and amongst sports fans (e.g. in crowds), which is just as likely to explain group displays of aggression. Moreover, they ignore the role played by environmental learning, as seen in Bandura's bobo doll study. Similarly, research by Berkowitz and LaPage suggests the importance of cue arousal, where a cue is necessary to spark an aggressive act, even if we have a biological predisposition for aggression, all of which are not considered by the theory. 

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What is the conclusion?

Therefore, whilst it is possible that group displays of aggression have evolved, aggression seen in sports and warfare is just as likely to be explained through other factors, such as deindividuation.

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