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Eastwood's Brawn and Einstein's Brain: An Evolutionary Account of Dominance, Prestige, and Precarious Manhood

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Researchers have theorized that manhood is a precarious social status that requires effort to achieve. Because of this, men whose manhood is threatened react with a variety of compensatory behaviors and cognitions such as aggression, support for hierarchy, low tolerance for homosexuality, and support for war. In the following article, we argue that the precarious status of manhood is a result of evolutionary propensities and cultural forces. Specifically, men evolved in dominance hierarchies and therefore, display honest signals of strength and vigor to dissuade other men from fighting them. However, men also evolved in large, prestige-based coalitions and compete against each other to display traits that enhance a coalition. These traits can vary from physical prowess and aggression to intelligence and empathy. As culture becomes more pluralistic and modernized, traditional notions of manhood become less important and alternative avenues for achieving status become available. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)
... Some notable reactions have included more significant support for, and desire to advance in, dominance hierarchies (Willer et al., 2013) and heightened displays of physical aggression (Bosson et al., 2009). Researchers have suggested that manhood's precariousness is rooted in evolutionary and cultural considerations (e.g., Bosson & Vandello, 2011;Winegard et al., 2014). Specifically, men evolved in groups that promoted sex-differentiated dominance processes and, therefore, used signals of dominance (e.g., daringness, strength, or toughness) to compete for status because it offered preferential access to scarce survival and reproductive resources (Geary, 2020;Winegard et al., 2014). ...
... Researchers have suggested that manhood's precariousness is rooted in evolutionary and cultural considerations (e.g., Bosson & Vandello, 2011;Winegard et al., 2014). Specifically, men evolved in groups that promoted sex-differentiated dominance processes and, therefore, used signals of dominance (e.g., daringness, strength, or toughness) to compete for status because it offered preferential access to scarce survival and reproductive resources (Geary, 2020;Winegard et al., 2014). While modern men live under profoundly different circumstances (e.g., compared to men living in the Pleistocene era), they have inherited these propensities whose activation thresholds are adjusted to cultural norms (Geary, 2020). ...
... Moreover, although modern societies' status systems are primarily set in prestige (i.e., freely given, respect-based deference), both prestige and dominance represent discernable routes to status (Cheng et al., 2013). As a dominance-based route, manhood status serves to transmit critical details about one's possession of traits perceived to affect success rates in male-male contest competition (Winegard et al., 2014). Consequently, manhood is a precarious status for men because it indicates a prima facie claim to resources that others, competing for the same resources, would be highly motivated to protest. ...
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The current study proposes an extension of theory and research on the effect of status threat specific to heterosexual men’s anti-gay slurs usage. Drawing on both the Precarious Manhood Thesis and the Coalitional Value Theory, the current study investigates whether masculine personality traits moderate the association between status threat and men’s readiness to use anti-gay slurs. A sample of heterosexual male university students (N = 139) was recruited from two English-speaking universities in Montreal, Quebec, and Houston, Texas. Participants completed questionnaires and randomly received either status threatening or status confirming feedback. Next, after reading vignettes describing heterosexual men behaving in ways that might jeopardize their status, participants reported their estimated probability of calling the target character a “fag” or “faggot.” Findings revealed a significant interaction effect. That is, only among participants high in masculine personality traits, those in the threat condition indicated significantly greater readiness to use anti-gay slurs relative to those in the status affirmation group. These findings contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of men’s anti-gay slur usage grounded in a status striving motive paired with distinct personality features. Future research directions are discussed.
... For example, in public goods games, men contribute more to their group when competing against another group, whereas women's contributions are less contingent on intergroup competition (Bailey, Winegard, Oxford, & Geary, 2012;Van Vugt, Cremer, & Janssen, 2007). Modern men also tend to defer to same-sex peers possessing traits that were historically beneficial in intergroupwarfare, such as courage, dominance, pain tolerance, and physical strength (Eisenbruch, Grillot, Maestripieri, & Roney, 2016;Winegard, Reynolds, Baumeister, & Plant, 2016;Winegard, Winegard, & Geary, 2014). Compared to women, men are more willing to befriend same-sex peers and less likely to dissolve same-sex friendships, tendencies which likely allowed men to form large groups, thereby gaining numerical advantages in historical conflicts (Benenson, 1990(Benenson, , 2014Benenson et al., 2009;Vigil, 2007). ...
... Not only were women often surrounded by unrelated individuals throughout history, these same-sex relationships were not buttressed by the demands of warfare to the same degree as men's same-sex alliances. That is, a larger proportion of our male than female ancestors were forced to rely on one another during intergroup conflict, generating strong incentives to appreciate one another's coalitionary-benefitting traits and preserve intragroup harmony (Winegard et al., 2014(Winegard et al., , 2016. Within-group conflict could hinder the coalition's coordination, and thus, ancestral men would have encountered strong pressures to maintain relative peace with their same-sex group members (Geary et al., 2003). ...
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Investigations of women’s same-sex relationships present a paradoxical pattern, with women generally disliking competition, yet also exhibiting signs of intrasexual rivalry. The current article leverages the historical challenges faced by female ancestors to understand modern women’s same-sex relationships. Across history, women were largely denied independent access to resources, often depending on male partners’ provisioning to support themselves and their children. Same-sex peers thus became women’s primary romantic rivals in competing to attract and retain relationships with the limited partners able and willing to invest. Modern women show signs of this competition, disliking and aggressing against those who threaten their romantic prospects, targeting especially physically attractive and sexually uninhibited peers. However, women also rely on one another for aid, information, and support. As most social groups were patrilocal across history, upon marriage, women left their families to reside with their husbands. Female ancestors likely used reciprocal altruism or mutualism to facilitate cooperative relationships with nearby unrelated women. To sustain these mutually beneficial cooperative exchange relationships, women may avoid competitive and status-striving peers, instead preferring kind, humble, and loyal allies. Ancestral women who managed to simultaneously compete for romantic partners while forming cooperative female friendships would have been especially successful. Women may therefore have developed strategies to achieve both competitive and cooperative goals, such as guising their intrasexual competition as prosociality or vulnerability. These historical challenges make sense of the seemingly paradoxical pattern of female aversion to competition, relational aggression, and valuation of loyal friends, offering insight into possible opportunities for intervention.
... They also evolved predictable and functional emotional responses to appraisals of such coalitional value assessments. For instance, they evolved a predisposition to defer voluntarily to those higher in coalitional value, and to expect deference from those lower in coalitional value (Henrich and Gil-White 2001;Winegard et al. 2014). If people who provide more skills to the group receive more deference, they are better able to utilize those skills because of having to worry less about reproductive fitness. ...
... Ideologies, then, can be seen as statusstrategies; people forward narratives that favor their own fitness interests. For example, people who are intelligent, but not very athletic, should promote narratives that stress the importance of education and creativity to a modern economy; they also might be tempted to denigrate athletics, disparaging those who like and play sports as "jocks" or "meatheads" (Eckert 1990;Winegard et al. 2014). ...
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In the following article, we forward the coalitional value theory (CVT) and apply it to several puzzles about human behavior. The CVT contends that humans evolved unique mental mechanisms for assessing each other’s marginal value to a coalition (i.e., each other’s coalitional value). They defer to those with higher coalitional value, and they assert themselves over those with lower. We discuss how this mechanism likely evolved. We note that it helps explains how human groups can expand into large, complicated, and specialized coalitions (chiefdoms and even nation states). And we combine this with strong evidence that suggests that status striving is a fundamental human motive to explain partially (1) anti-gay bias, (2) cultural signaling, (3) cultural conceptions of god, and (4) ideological conflict.
... Many men associate being muscular and athletic with feeling more masculine (Frederick, Buchanan, et al., 2007;Luciano, 2007), and feel pressure to display strength or aggression when their masculinity or safety is threatened (Bosson & Vandello, 2011;Frederick et al., 2017;Geary, Winegard, & Winegard, 2016;Mishkind, Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1986;Winegard, Winegard, & Geary, 2014). Men who are tough and formidable may also be judged more favorably as potential coalitional partners (i.e., allies, friends) by other men, particularly when under threat from other individuals or groups (Gul & Uskul, 2020). ...
Article
According to the tripartite influence model, body dissatisfaction is shaped by internalizing cultural appearance ideals stemming from appearance-related family, peer, and media pressures. This model was developed for women, but emerging evidence points to its relevance for men’s body image. This study advanced this budding research by (a) integrating muscular-ideal internalization alongside lean-ideal internalization and body surveillance into the model, (b) examining two positive dimensions of body image as outcomes (body image quality of life and appearance evaluation), and (c) testing this model in national online sample of 5293 men. Structural equation modeling supported the model. Family, peer, and media pressures related to higher lean-ideal internalization, which related to higher body surveillance and poorer body image outcomes. Peer and media pressures related to higher muscular-ideal internalization, which related to higher body surveillance but more adaptive body image outcomes. We further examined whether model variables and paths differed based on men’s body mass index (BMI). Men with higher BMIs evidenced a stronger path between body surveillance and body image outcomes. These findings highlight the usefulness of sociocultural models for understanding men’s body image experiences.
... Related to this proposal, men have a significant interest in appearing formidable to others. This perceived formidability provides leverage for them to acquire resources, intimidate rivals, and deter aggression from those who might harm them (Winegard, Winegard, & Geary, 2014). When men's formidability is challenged or they are disrespected, this spurs an intentional reassertion of formidability, particularly if they have the physical means or social capital to do so. ...
Article
We examined how gender, body mass, race, age, and sexual orientation were linked to appearance evaluation, overweight preoccupation, and body image-related quality of life among 11,620 adults recruited via Mechanical Turk. Men were less likely than women to report low appearance evaluation, high overweight preoccupation, negative effects of body image on their quality of life, being on a weight-loss diet, and trying to lose weight with crash diets/fasting. Racial differences were generally small, but greater appearance evaluation was reported by Black men versus other groups and Black women versus White women. Across all measures, gay and bisexual men reported poorer body image than heterosexual men, with only small effect sizes observed for sexual orientation differences among women. Body mass, but not age, was strongly associated with body image. The prevalence of poor body image highlights the need for interventions. On the positive side, half of men and women reported high appearance evaluation. Examination of this group could identify factors promoting positive body image.
... Related to this proposal, men have a significant interest in appearing formidable to others. This perceived formidability provides leverage for them to acquire resources, intimidate rivals, and deter aggression from those who might harm them (Winegard, Winegard, & Geary, 2014). When men's formidability is challenged or they are disrespected, this spurs an intentional reassertion of formidability, particularly if they have the physical means or social capital to do so. ...
Article
We examined how demographic factors (gender, sexual orientation, racial group, age, body mass) were. linked to measures of sociocultural appearance concerns derived from objectification theory and the tripartite influence model (McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Schaefer et al., 2015) among 11,620 adults. Men were less likely than women to report high body surveillance, thin-ideal internalization, appearance-related media pressures, and family pressures; did not differ in peer pressures; and reported greater muscle/athletic internalization. Both men and women expressed greater desire for their bodies to look “very lean” than to look “very thin”. Compared to gay men, heterosexual men reported lower body surveillance, thin-ideal internalization, peer pressures, and media pressures. Black women reported lower thin-ideal internalization than White, Hispanic, and Asian women, whereas Asian women reported greater family pressures. Being younger and having higher BMIs were associated with greater sociocultural appearance concerns across most measures. The variation in prevalence of sociocultural appearance concerns across these demographic groups highlights the need for interventions.
... Although men as a group enjoy more status and power than women across cultures (Brown, 1991;Sidanius & Pratto, 1999), manhood status itself is elusive, competitive, and difficult to maintain . Precarious manhood beliefs reflect the difficulty of earning a reputation as a "real" or dominant man (Winegard et al., 2014) by emphasizing the struggle, uncertainty, and social proof requirements of the male gender role. If ambivalent gender ideologies and precarious manhood beliefs all arise from social hierarchies in which dominant men hold disproportionate power over women and lower-status men, then the PMB should cohere meaningfully with HS, BS, HM, and BM. ...
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Precarious manhood beliefs portray manhood, relative to womanhood, as a social status that is hard to earn, easy to lose, and proven via public action. Here, we present cross-cultural data on a brief measure of precarious manhood beliefs (the Precarious Manhood Beliefs scale [PMB]) that covaries meaningfully with other cross-culturally validated gender ideologies and with country-level indices of gender equality and human development. Using data from university samples in 62 countries across 13 world regions (N = 33,417), we demonstrate: (1) the psychometric isomorphism of the PMB (i.e., its comparability in meaning and statistical properties across the individual and country levels); (2) the PMB’s distinctness from, and associations with, ambivalent sexism and ambivalence toward men; and (3) associations of the PMB with nation-level gender equality and human development. Findings are discussed in terms of their statistical and theoretical implications for understanding widely-held beliefs about the precariousness of the male gender role.
Article
Cultures of honor are societies that strongly emphasize values of loyalty and integrity, as well as the need to defend and maintain one’s reputation. Research has focused heavily on men’s acquisition of repute as tough and masculine and their use of physical aggression for reputational defense, but much less is known about whether men display similar vigilance in managing their reputation for other elements of honor (e.g., loyalty, integrity). The two primary routes for men in honor cultures to acquire reputation—through acts of aggression or integrity—resemble evolutionary accounts of status acquisition in which men can gain status via dominance or prestige. Using a sample of undergraduate men (N = 221) from a U.S. honor culture, the present work tested the hypotheses that (1) honor endorsement would positively predict both status-seeking strategies, (2) that dominance-strategists would be sensitive to masculinity threats and boosts, and (3) that honor-oriented men’s sensitivity to masculinity threats (and boosts) would be indirectly explained by the use of dominance-based, but not prestige-based, strategies to acquire status and reputation. Results supported these hypotheses. We also found evidence that the prestige-based strategy seemed to buffer against masculinity threats. Implications for men’s mental health outcomes are discussed.
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Precarious manhood theory posits that males are expected to actively maintain their reputations as “real men.” We propose that men’s concern about failing to meet masculine standards leads them to embrace policies and politicians that signal strength and toughness—or what we term political aggression. Three correlational studies support this claim. In Study 1, men’s fear of failing to meet masculine expectations predicted their support for aggressive policies (e.g., the death penalty), but not policies lacking aggressive features (e.g., affirmative action). Studies 2 and 3 utilized Google searches to assess the relationship between regional levels of precarious manhood and real-world electoral behavior. The use of search terms related to masculine anxieties correlated with Donald Trump’s vote share in the 2016 general election (Study 2) and, confirming preregistered predictions, with Republican candidates’ vote shares in 2018 congressional elections (Study 3). We close by discussing potential sources of variation in precarious manhood.
Preprint
Precarious manhood theory posits that males are expected to actively maintain their reputations as “real men.” We propose that men’s fear of failing to meet masculine standards leads them to embrace aggressive politics—specifically, policies and politicians that facilitate dominance over others. Three correlational studies support this claim. In Study 1, men’s fear of failing to meet masculine expectations predicted their support for aggressive policies (e.g., the death penalty), but not policies unrelated to aggression (e.g., affirmative action). Studies 2 and 3 utilized Google searches to assess the relationship between regional levels of precarious manhood and real-world electoral behavior. Consistent with preregistered predictions, the use of search terms related to masculine anxieties correlated with Donald Trump’s vote share in the 2016 general election (Study 2) and Republican candidates’ vote shares in 2018 congressional elections (Study 3). We close by discussing potential sources of variation in precarious manhood.
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