It was brawn over beauty in human mating competition

May 13, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Male physical competition, not attraction, was central in winning mates among human ancestors, according to a Penn State anthropologist.

"There is sexual competition in many species, including humans," said David A. Puts, assistant professor of biological anthropology.

Many researchers have considered the main operator in human . They thought that people's mating success was mainly determined by attractiveness; but for men, it appears that physical competition among males was more important. Puts sees humans as similar to many of the in using male competition to determine access to mates, the winning male choosing the women of his dreams. He reports his findings in the current issue of Evolution and Human Behavior.

"On average men are not all that much bigger than women, only about 15 percent larger," said Puts. "But, the average guy is stronger than 99.9 percent of women."

The problem is that men and women do not appear sexually dimorphic - different sexes having radically different sizes and weights. But Puts notes that women tend to store more body fat, while men have 60 percent more than women.

Other traits indicate physical prowess was the major force in human mate competition through history. Men are far more aggressive than women, and approximately 30 percent of men in small-scale foraging communities die violently. Puts suggests that while a deep voice has been considered an appealing trait to women, it actually signals dominance.

"A deep voice makes men look dominant and older," said Puts. "A low voice's effect on dominance is many times greater than its effect on sexual attraction."

The main sticking point with human male competition compared to other species is that male humans do not possess inherent weapons.

"Other animals have antlers or long canines and claws," said Puts. "Why don't we have them?"

According to Puts, men do have weapons. They make them. Bows and arrows, spears, knives -- men have always manufactured weapons.

Other male traits also seem to imply competition. Males have thicker jawbones, which may have come from men hitting each other and the thickest-boned men surviving. Competition may explain why males have more robust skulls and brow ridges than women.

Another argument for male competition focuses on the environment. Puts suggests that species that live in three-dimensional space - birds and insects in the air or swimming creatures in the sea - tend not to compete for mates using physical competition because it would be very difficult for a male to defend females while fighting other males on all fronts. Species that live on the ground or the sea floor have it easier because there are only two dimensions to defend. Some insects that live in tunnels or burrows exhibit the most intense competition because it is impossible for the other male to get to the females except through the defender.

Male competition is rare among birds, occurring to a greater degree among large terrestrial species. Tree-living primates also show less physical competition. Humans living in a two-dimensional environment would experience substantial physical competition for mates.

According to Puts, humans and chimpanzees create male coalitions that are often strengthened by kinship. Coalitions can help males defend females from other males. However, when external forces are absent, these same males can compete with each other for mates.

These ideas may seem to paint a rather bleak picture of human nature with men duking it out among themselves for most of human evolution.

"Things are different for us now in many ways," said Puts. "It's heartening to think that human behavior is flexible enough that the right social institutions can increase equality and peace."

Explore further: What gave us the advantage over extinct types of humans?

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User comments : 19

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Caliban
1.7 / 5 (6) May 13, 2010
Supposition, inference, hypothesizing, wishful thinking- you name it. No Science here.
Ravenrant
2 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
Woman choose men now and competition among males has been changed to who looks the prettiest. The average size of men is probably going down. With women doing the choosing we are probably moving towards sexual dimorphism. It is an evolutionary change and force regardless. Whether it is for the better of the race remains to be seen. Personally with technology thrown into the mix I think there is a good chance that the male of our species is heading towards extinction. We may not be needed in the future at all. Society's acceptance of single motherhood is a start in that direction. Please rate this post a 1.
powerup1
1.8 / 5 (5) May 13, 2010
@ravenrant, really, what is your reason for posting on this subject and then asking for a 1 ranking?
trekgeek1
2 / 5 (4) May 13, 2010
Extinction of males? That would imply a whole planet of lesbian women. I guess we gotta take one for the team men!
pauljpease
4.3 / 5 (6) May 13, 2010
I disagree with the idea that the competition has decreased that much, and that mate choice it now determined mostly by level of attraction. Men compete at everything they do. Those who are "winners" have better social connections, get better jobs, make more money, and a lot of women are attracted to money. They just don't literally beat other men to get women anymore. They beat them at all of the games humans have invented as proxies for direct physical violence. In the end this is good for evolution because it creates more niches for men than just being physically dominant. The math genius can beat other men at math, the musician can beat other men at playing music, etc. Even video games are a niche where some people strive to be the best, because by being the best at something makes you attractive. That's why humans will always create new games, I guess as long as our population continues to grow, so that we can differentiate ourselves.
Skeptic_Heretic
2.7 / 5 (3) May 13, 2010
From what I understand, prevailing evidence is that in almost all primate species the female initiates sexual selection. Typically the larger more brutish men were the ones with the greatest chance of providing for their offspring, and thereby having greater status within a tribe due to family size and virility, regardless of appearance.
Ravenrant
1 / 5 (2) May 14, 2010
To quote a certain redhead in thhe Incredibles, "When everyone is super, no one will be super.". So from now on I am rating all posts a 1 in any thread I post to as retaliation for the idiots here who routinely do it to everyone else just because they disagree with the post, even when they just state facts. I would rate my own a one but I can't. Rating a post is for idiots.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) May 14, 2010
To quote a certain redhead in thhe Incredibles, "When everyone is super, no one will be super.". So from now on I am rating all posts a 1 in any thread I post to as retaliation for the idiots here who routinely do it to everyone else just because they disagree with the post, even when they just state facts. I would rate my own a one but I can't. Rating a post is for idiots.

Then how about you do us a favor and see who rated your post before you blitzkrieg the rest of us in what appears to be your way to attempt to censor other peoples' opinions?
otto1923
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2010
"physical competition among males was more important" -Yes and what is it that compels men to compete? A females reproductive strategy involves procuring the best possible donor for each any every successive child she will bear. How does she discern who is the better, but by compelling candidates to compete for her? This natural inclination does not stop at conception; a female will strive to test her mate by pitting him against others in the hope of securing the best possible protection for her and her offspring as well. Men are stronger than women, but an attractive woman has no trouble securing protection from multiple suitors. Men are Dupes by design.

The binding of women to the institution of marriage was intended to counter this natural propensity, the temptation of Eve, to promote order and stability within the community.

"A woman would rather have 1/10 of a champion than all of a mediocre man." -Oscar Wilde.

otto1923
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2010
And no SH this ain't Victorian chauvinism it's a pretty obvious biological reality. The buzzwords 'victorian' and 'chauvinism' were concocted when the time came to slow the reproductive rate and destroy the stable family unit. We now have safer, more dependable ways of instilling culture in people than church and the home. People today bounce off each other like ions in a plasma, tempting, conquering, but relatively few will stick for very long. Plasmas are most efficient for generating productive energy, yes? Two can consume far more than a couple.
JayK
2.3 / 5 (3) May 14, 2010
@Ravenrant: Still can't get over the fact that people think you're an idiot, huh? You never did answer me on that other thread where you went off like a spoiled child, then here you are doing it again. Why are you even posting at all?

SH: "Typically the larger more brutish men were the ones with the greatest chance of providing for their offspring, and thereby having greater status within a tribe due to family size and virility, regardless of appearance."

I strongly disagree that the mate was selected by the female. Do you have anything to back this statement up?
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (2) May 14, 2010
I can't find anything other than the first few pages online but The First Million Years: The Archaeology of Protohuman Culture, by Nicholas Toth and Kathy D. Schick was fairly well written on the topic and is evidenced often within the fields of protohuman anthropology and human proto civ studies.
otto1923
5 / 5 (3) May 14, 2010
Rating a post is for idiots.
And I sir, am that sort of idiot. At least in this case. People who worry about it are, uh, idiots?
I strongly disagree that the mate was selected by the female.
A woman has much more time and effort invested in a pregnancy. While a males natural strategy involves impregnating as many females as possible to maximize the possibility of the next gen surviving to reproduce, a females involves the best choice for each. Quantity vs quality. Females must compel suitors to compete when she has the chance to do so.

You cant judge male/female relations throughout most of history because our natural tendencies have been suppressed to allow society to function properly. Jared Diamond in Guns Germs and Steel relates an interview with a young woman in a primitive culture, of the violence among suitors and husbands she experienced in her young life. A chief in need of young warriors could not have allowed this sort of attrition to continue for long.
Husky
not rated yet May 16, 2010
asking for a ranking ha! maybe if you ask in a really deep dominant voice
pubwvj
not rated yet May 16, 2010
Duh. Grunt. Wack.
Women on the other hand are selected for beauty. Look at the secondary sexual characteristics that are most prominent - symmetry, breasts and hips. Note that in other species the breasts are small except during lactation...
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) May 19, 2010
Duh. Grunt. Wack.
Women on the other hand are selected for beauty. Look at the secondary sexual characteristics that are most prominent - symmetry, breasts and hips. Note that in other species the breasts are small except during lactation...

Mammary glands on humans are enlarged to utilize the characteristics of primary sexual signals from earlier versions.

Front cleavage looks just like rear cleavage. Men like round things.
hazy_jane
not rated yet May 20, 2010
I don't really see the problem of whether either attractive or dominant is the deciding factor, clearly dominant is attractive. What makes men dominant and in turn successful makes them attractive to women.
Maybe at first it was just about physical competition and had nothing to do with selection by the females. Then with time the characteristics of successful males became (automatically) attractive to the females as well.
Just a thought.
Amy2010
not rated yet May 26, 2010
Males still complete for women. 90% of all violent crime is by males and most often the victim is another male and I believe males often will kill each other over a woman. Even as far as punishment for crimes, although many women believe a rapist should be executed, more males think they should be than do women. (Is this because women are seen as property still)

Still there use to be a time in which the males that had a better chance with a woman is one that would be willing or had killed other males to win her favor. To some extent, this may even be true today but it is more of a male trait to use "brawn over their brains to win a woman. This is one reason women do live longer than males and I believe it shows our superiority since women tend to support each other more rather than to compete with each other. Like it or not guys, women can usually get a male to do anything she wants him to do.
Amy2010
not rated yet May 26, 2010
Duh. Grunt. Wack.
Women on the other hand are selected for beauty. Look at the secondary sexual characteristics that are most prominent - symmetry, breasts and hips. Note that in other species the breasts are small except during lactation...


This may only indicate that males are turned on by sight and this may be why many think that males use their little brain far more than the one in their head (the one on their shoulder)

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