(Santa Barbara, Calif.) For our ancestors, misjudging the physical strength of a would-be opponent might have resulted in painful and potentially deadly defeat.
Now, a study conducted by a team of scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara has found that a mechanism exists within the human brain that enables people to determine with uncanny accuracy the fighting ability of men around them by honing in on their upper body strength. What's more, that assessment can be made even when everything but the men's faces are obscured from view. A paper highlighting the researchers' findings appears in the current issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society.
"Assessing fighting ability was important for our ancestors, and the characteristic that the mind implicitly equates with fighting ability is upper body strength," said Aaron Sell, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSB's Center for Evolutionary Psychology and the paper's lead author. "That's the component of strength that's most relevant to premodern combat. The visual assessment of fighting ability is almost perfectly correlated with the perception of strength, and both closely track actual upper body strength. What is a bit spooky is that upper body strength can even be read on a person's face.
Sell conducted the study with Leda Cosmides, a professor of psychology and co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology; John Tooby, a professor of anthropology and also co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology; Michael Gurven, an associate professor of anthropology; and graduate students Daniel Sznycer and Christopher von Rueden.
The study consisted of four sections, each of which asked the test subjects to assess the physical strength of individuals based on photographs of their faces, their bodies, or both. Subjects were asked to rank the physical strength or fighting ability of the people in the photographs on a scale of one to seven. When
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University of California - Santa Barbara