Does physical strength influence male political views?

From The Economist:

Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer were investigating the idea that a person’s political opinions might be aligned with his physical characteristics. The opinion in question was whether resources should be redistributed from the rich to the poor. The physical characteristic was strength.

…Dr. Petersen and Dr Sznycer found that, regardless of country of origin or apparent ideology, strong men argued for their self interest: the poor for redistribution, the rich against it. No surprises there. Weaklings, however, were far less inclined to make the case that self-interest suggested they would. Among women, by contrast, strength had no correlation with opinion. Rich women wanted to stay rich; poor women to become so.

The paper is here.  Here is another paper by the authors (and two others), on attitudes toward welfare.  Sznycer has a useful page of research papers here.


'strong men argued for their self interest'

So, after the experience of revolutions like in France, Russia, China, strong have discovered that their interest is in a stable society?

Are we still equating strong with dumb?

Or merely that strong men are dumber than women?

Actually what I think they're saying is that strong men who are poor believe they are somehow helped by stealing the wealth created by people who are not poor. The researchers defined this as being in that strong-but-poor man's "self interest."

Of course this is only in someone's self interest in the sense that robbing a bank is in the self-interest of the robber. The sort of narrow, myopic, and ultimately self-destructive model of self-interest that defines so much of what the left thinks and feels.

It seems to me that this research basically says that physically strong men are used to being the takers rather than those taken from, and are therefore comfortable with the notion of stealing other people's stuff if they are ignorant and stupid (and therefore poor.) Weaker men are more used to being taken from, and are more likely to put stock into the idea of property rights as a social convention and legal doctrine even if they themselves do not possess a great deal.

As for the women, sounds to me like physical strength isn't something they use to define themselves, which should come as no surprise. Beauty might be the comparable characteristic for girls, but it is not one that leads to one person being victimized and stolen from by another. Pretty girls steal boyfriends, but that is about it.

I had a professor in graduate school, a normative political theorist who had done some historical research, who made a speculative argument that Madison's classical liberalism was an epiphenomenon of his short stature, slight/frail frame, and especially of his hypochondria.

(My professor also saw Madison's ideas as a result of liberalism via a belief in the Hobbesian nature of the human condition.)

Madison's ally on the left, Jefferson, was 6'3", and Madison's ally on the right, Washington, was 6'2".

Given Washington's tendency to align himself with Hamilton, I suspect Madison would be shocked to see him described as an ally....

Madison, Hamilton, and Jay teamed up to write the Federalist Papers and they helped Washington out with his important Farewell Address of 1796.

In other news, smart people wanted the professor to give A's, B', C's, D's and F's; while the dumber people wanted everyone to get C's.

The really smart people want to be the professor.

And the people who are even smarter (or perhaps more aware) know that a life in academia is a sisyphean existence whose rewards are meager in comparison with the effort involved.

Far better to be a Mr. or a Mrs. with a six figure income in a business that they have built themselves and are free to define and control than a Dr. with a 150k income in an academic department they do not control and whose intrigues would make the KGB blush.

Academia is not a sinecure. As a tenured faculty member you either work 60 hours a week doing research, 60 a week teaching classes to disinterested undergrads, or 60 hours a week being punished with committee assignments because you didn't do enough research or teach enough classes.

The notion of the tweeded professor sitting in a wood paneled room surrounded by thick esoteric tomes, smoking a pipe, sipping tea, and daydreaming about his particular field -- while being paid for it -- is a myth. Anyone pursuing a Ph.D in search of that is in for a very rude awakening.

People who are smart go to school and then leave to go out into the world and actually do something.

I don't get what you are saying.

Actually, if one were to take this study seriously, then one would predict that only physically strong smart people would want professors to give A's, B's, C's, D's, and F's and strong dumb people would want everyone to get C's. Physically weak people (smart and dumb) wouldn't care one way or the other. At least, that would be the case for men. Smart women regardless of strength would want differential grades, while dumb women regardless of strength would want everyone to get the same grade. Or something like that.

I can find a logic in every position:

Rich women are against redistribution: I can see the logic. Check.
Poor women are in favour of redistribution: check

Rich strong men are against redistribution: I can see the logic. Check.

Rich weak men (tend to be) in favour of redristibution:
I can see a logic here. Redistribution might have a stabilizing effect on society. And no one benefits more from a stable society than rich men who are to weak to defend their wealth physically.
So yes, there is a certain logic.
(Though this logic would apply even more to rich women).

Poor strong men are in favour of redistribution: check.

The hardest case are the poor weak men.
One reasoning might be, that weak men are weak because they tend to have office jobs that don't require manual labour.
A white collar worker might see a chance of decent wages and some wealth in the future.
So he might not be as dependent on redistribution as the average blue collar (stronger) worker.

It does indeed appear that you can find logic to -any- position. This demonstrates that with enough creativity, everything appears logical -- in hindsight.

Exactly. This would have been a good opportunity to report the reverse of the actual results and see how many people would say that it's just what they would have expected. (As in

Didn't Samuel Colt famously equalize the strong and the weak, when it comes to the defense of property?

Which is precisely why the left wishes to deprive us all of Mr Colt's creation.

It is impossible to disenfranchise someone who has not yet been disarmed.

The authors never cite the study which concludes that bicep size is a good measure of strength but this feels like a cheap way to collect data. Biceps are a vanity muscle. You can do a bazillion curls with forty pound dumb bells and you'll end up with big biceps but are you strong? Look at the competitors in World's Strongest Man. Their biceps aren't disproportionately big; in fact they're probably small compared with the overall package. Those guys devote most of their work to core, legs and shoulders. Curls might impress the ladies but squats make you strong.

All true, but they've still got bigger biceps than me or (almost certainly) you.

JoeDog, shhh as a women now floating through a world of under-developed biceps I beg you not to diss the study's measure of strength. Seriously, I did wonder about the dynamics of this strength changes over the life-cycle and by one's environment...does that get reflected in one's political views? (I would be surprised.)

Men with large biceps will tend to have larger other muscles as well, whether it be due to genetics or lifting--a general brolic factor.

With so much of the world overweight and obese, how closely does bicep size actually correlate with bicep strength, let alone body strength? Many people in this country are so fat that you cannot use normal blood pressure cuffs to take their blood pressure. I can assure you that this has nothing to do with their immense strength.

Actually, providing they aren't actually bedridden, such very large people ARE strong. Ask a 200 kg woman to do a curl and she (on average) lifts a fair bit more than the average 50 kg woman.
Well she can lift it once. Then she has to catch her breath.

Yet another supporting argument for Econ Blogger Status Disease (EBSD).

As someone who, at a moment in his life, started working out and went from being quite skinny to somewhat muscular (muscles gone now, thanks to a decade of working at a desk and not at the gym), I can say that this finding makes sense to me. When I became muscular and stronger, my confidence (which was never low, by the way) increased tremendously and made me feel better about my ability to achieve things. Also, it made me realize that, if you work hard at something, you get results; I had certainly "earned" my muscles. Finally, I felt quite secure physically, as people would treat me with deference (at the time, I attributed it to being better looking, but maybe it was also because I was also physically bigger).

Thus, I can see how someone who believes that effort begets rewards and does not feel threatened, will believe that people "deserve" what they have and, therefore, redistribution is not as justifed, even for safety's sake.

Please note that this explanation is an extreme reduction of the though process to illustrate a point.

You are probably right and they are probably looking at the wrong end of the stick. It may be that earning those biceps makes you the way you are.

You can often see this with peasants. Who are not the most likely to vote to the Left most places. Especially if they own their own land. France excepted. Farmers, after all, may be poor but they see a direct relationship between the amount of work they do and the results they get. University professors on the other hand see almost no link between the work they do and the results they get. University professors almost universally vote further to the Left than the mainstream of their society. Which is, in passing, why I think Obama is not a Muslim and is a socialist as that is his world.

Put simplistically, people who put in the effort to build muscle, or grow corn, see rewards as a result of effort. People who don't, want the results without making the effort. So they support redistribution. It isn't muscles per se, it is the sort of character that evolves out of different experiences.

Just waiting for the study on penis size.

All the male researchers quit in shame. All the female researchers found something better to do than continue the research.

Obviously this speaks to a statistical correlation that is not perfect.

One reason why the correlation is imperfect is the relevance of signaling to political preferences. Attitudes favoring redistribution can be interpreted as a form of altruism, especially when held by one who is strong (or wealthy). Indeed, altruism is at its core a signal of strength (wealth), because only the very fit can afford the demands of altruism (which I presume is why altruism is sexy).

But isn't redistribution the opposite of altruism (or at least orthogonal)? Altruism would be charity, right?

Women need not fear physical retaliation for expressing their potentially polarizing views to others, whereas weak men do. It would make sense, in weak men's self-interest, if they subconsciously knew they're weak and thus don't develop potentially incendiary views.

The norms against assaulting women are very likely evolutionarily-imbued; every human culture finds violence against men more tolerable than violence against women.

If all they did was measure bicep size then all they were doing was separating the large men from the small men. I doubt this study would have been different if you went by height.

Granted, size often correlates with strength. But I think it is bit of a stretch to say that getting stronger changes your political views with out better evidence then this.

+1, also +1 to previous comments about the obese and the tall.

If they wanted a quick, safe, easy-to-use-in-an-office test of strength, go with grip. There are high quality scientific apparatus available, and things like this: are cheap and widely available.

Grip will correlate well with better measures of strength, like how much you squat, without requiring training the subjects before you can run the test.

The most out of the closet Republicans in Hollywood are the male action stars: Schwarzenegger, Eastwood, and so forth.

Patrica Heaton? Janine Turner?

How does this apply to guys who lie about their bench?

In America at least propensity weight-lifting is cuts across different ethnic-cultural lines. Among middle/upper class people weight-lifting tends to be preferred by people of Mediterranean descent, frat bros, and hyper-competitive former athletes. Endurance sports like long-distance running, cycling and yoga are preferred by SWPLs, people of Asian descent, New Englanders and Californians. These respective groups tend to lean right and left respectively.

When you move to the lower classes weight-lifting tends to be more the domain of blacks and Hispanics. These groups of course lean left. Whereas poor whites, particularly evangelical whites are not as interested in weight-lifting. So the pattern reverses.


Perhaps there's also a distinction between Northern and Southern California, with SoCal being more weight-lifting oriented and, until recently, more Republican.

I'd also suspect that blacks who lift weights tend to be more conservatives than other blacks, all else being equal.

In general, I would guess that the effects of weightlifting are closer to a Nurture (not Nature) factor than most other proposed factors.


Unless you have a real good study to back you up I got to call BS on what you just said. I don't know about the upper classes, but weight lifting is most certainly big among lower class whites. I am guessing you don't live in football country.

I also call BS. Lifting has completely gone SWPL. Bodybuilding might fit Doug's description, but things like powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, and Crossfit sure don't.

But didn't the survey released a few days ago show that football correlated with right wing, and baseball with left?

I'd be more interested to see a different characteristic component used for the women. Women are not brought up to become physically strong in general, they are brought up to be pretty. What if the division there had been between beautiful and ugly women? Same result or would physical characteristics have a similar impact?

Seems to be some leaping to conclusions there.

Maybe physical strength leads to greater extremes of political belief? Or greater confidence in the validity of ones political beliefs? Or greater confidence in openly expressing ones poltical beliefs? Or maybe higher testosterone levels lead to both greater physical strength, and more extreme expressions of political belief?

Building muscle tends to change the sex hormone balance, which tends to change attitudes.

Color me skeptical that strength makes any difference in political views. I have lifted weights from my early teens up to the present time. Both through genetics and exercise I am bigger and stronger than my father (my mother's side was wider than my skinny Father's side) ever was. Both of my Grandfathers and my father are if anything more conservative than I am and more inclined for their own "self interest" if you use the authors definition.

And I have to be real skeptical of any study that measure strength via bicep size. Being really fat is the easiest way of getting big biceps.

Old people more conservative than young people? Surely not!

Interesting dataset with a completely backwards-ass interpretation, bicep size is essentially a choice (especially since typical american weightlifting habits have a disproportionate effect on it with respect to overall strength gains) political opinions are mostly inherited and unconscious, the causality is more likely to run from the slow-changing variable to the heavily contingent one.

Much more obvious explanation: rich and anti-redistribution = afraid of/angry about potential socialism, poor and pro-redistribution = afraid of/angry about predatory capitalism. Guys who feel threatened and angry are more likely to hit the gym.

Ah looking at the paper the explanation for the borked explanation becomes clear: it's an evolutionary psychology paper. Should have seen it coming really.

Comments for this post are closed