José Muñoz-Reyes, Carlos Gil-Burmann, Bernhard Fink and Enrique Turiegano

Physical strength, fighting ability, and aggressiveness in adolescents

American Journal of Human Biology

Objectives: Recent research suggests that evolutionary selection pressures have shaped mental mechanisms to be able to assess one's own and other's physical strength, fighting ability, and aggressiveness. According to the recalibrational theory, anger may be linked to fighting ability and serve as a bargaining mechanism to improve welfare obtained in social conflict. We hypothesized that late adolescent men (but not mid-adolescent men or women) use this mechanism, as it would be particularly adaptive for them to avoid potential costs from direct conflict in male competition. Methods: The present study investigated the relationship between fighting ability (estimated from handgrip strength [HGS], a measure of upper body strength, and self-reported fighting ability) and aggressiveness (physical and nonphysical) in 288 Spanish adolescents aged 14–18 years. Results: Our results indicated a positive relationship between self-perceived fighting ability and HGS in both sexes during adolescence. There was no association between fighting ability and aggressiveness in late adolescent women (17–18 years). For men, there was a positive relationship between fighting ability and physical aggression, but the strength of this relationship decreased with age. Additionally, for men, there was a positive relationship between fighting ability and anger but only in late adolescence, and thus arguing that for adolescent men aggression strategies shift from physical to nonphysical as they age.   Conclusions: With reference to the recalibrational theory of anger, our results suggest that the sex- and age-dependent associations between fighting ability and physical and nonphysical aggression indicate divergent adaptive skills between sexes, which are driven by intrasexual competition.