Discuss one or more evolutionary explanations of group display in humans

By July 20, 2018 Sports

Group behaviour can possess an adaptive advantage for the individuals within the group, which is why it can appear in particular social situations. An example of this appears within sports crowds. Natural selection favours genes that cause human beings to be altruistic towards members of their own group, yet intolerant towards outsiders (xenophobia). It would be adaptive to exaggerate negative stereotypes of outsiders, as the over-perception of threat would be less costly than its under-perception.

Van Vugt et al. (2007) supports this by stating that among early humans there was a constant threat from rival groups, therefore, men have evolved a specific ‘tribal psychology’ that increases their propensity for intergroup aggression and includes in-group favouritism, intergroup aggression and dehumanization of the out-group. It has also been noted that such displays of aggression within sports crowds relates to the adaptive response by our ancestors as they allowed groups to defend valuable resources associated with territory.

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Research by Foldesi (96) provides support for the link between sports displays and xenophobia. He found that racist chants and banners from extremist supports, among Hungarian football crowds, led to an increase in spectator violence in general, but was particularly aimed at groups condemned to be ‘outsiders’ (e.g. gypsies, Jews and Russians).

Evans and Rowe (2002) also found evidence of xenophobic displays in a study of football crowds in continental Europe that involved either the English national team or English club sides. They found more evidence of xenophobic abuse and violent disorder in games involving the national side than in games involving the club sides.

They concluded that this is due to the fact club sides tend to be more ethically diverse and therefore less likely to produce xenophobic responses from foreign supporters. There is also evidence for the power of territorial displays. Lewis et al. found that, among football fans, crowd support was seen as the most significant factor contributing to a home advantage. However, Pollard and Pollard argue that the precise way in which crowd displays have an effect is not clear.

Aggressive group displays evolved because of the adaptive advantage for the
individual and their offspring. It is argued there are benefits of aggressive displays in warfare. Sexual selection is the debate that, in traditional societies, men compete for mates; those who do well in battle are rewarded with access to females (Divale and Harris). Chagnon states that displays of aggression and bravery are attractive to females, and male warriors tend to have more sexual partners, which suggests reproductive benefit. Another benefit is the acquisition of status.

Displays of aggression and bravery in battle acquire status in the eyes of other group members. As a result, they are more likely to share the benefits associated with status, which in turn would increase their reproductive fitness. Another evolutionary explanation within warfare is that of signals of commitment. By engaging in permanent displays (such as scars), individual warriors can demonstrate their loyalty to the group and can benefit from the benefits of warfare against another group.

There is research support for the sexual selection explanation by Palmer and Tilley. They found that male youth street gang members have more sexual partners than other males. LeBlanc and Register identify that war emerged when early humans were tied to agriculture or fishing sites, giving them something to defend.

Therefore, it appears that warfare emerged as a rational response to a changing lifestyle, meaning aggressive displays are not likely to be a product of evolution, but a response to environment changes. This argues that warfare and group display of aggression within warfare is not ‘in the genes’. Another argument is the limitations that explanations of aggressive displays based on mating success, status or commitment have. They fail to explain the extreme cruelty that is found among humans but not non-human species, such as torture or mutilation.

The power of xenophobic group displays to invoke violence has motivated football clubs to take steps to minimise its influence. Glasgow football teams, Celtic and Rangers, have both introduced initiatives to end xenophobic sectarian displays by their supporters, and so end violence on the terraces, is an example of this. Explanations of aggressive displays are gender biased. Explanations in warfare are gender biased because they are limited to the behaviour of males rather than females. Women have
considerable less to gain from fighting in near-certain death situations and considerably more to lose.


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