I always thought the BPI Campus gym had no dumbbells because there is no BPI Campus gym. A new study suggests there may be another reason. (More)

Squirrels don’t spend a lot of time at the gym. We get plenty of exercise climbing trees and scampering around for food and, well, being squirrels. Humans did too, back in Ye Goode Olde Dayse, which actually weren’t so good. And apparently some of you were conservatives even back then.

At least that’s the theory in “The Ancestral Logic of Politics,” the title of a new study by Michael Bang Petersen and four co-authors, published last week in Psychological Science. Predictably, the popular press are mischaracterizing their research.

For example, the Daily Mail headlined their story “Men Who Are Physically Strong Are More Likely to Have Right Wing Political Views,” and led with this:

Men who are strong are more likely to take a right-wing stance, while weaker men support the welfare state, researchers claim.

Their study discovered a link between a man’s upper-body strength and their political views.

The MinnPost wasn’t quite as bad, with the headline “What’s a Guy’s View on Taxes? Check Out His Biceps,” and this lead:

Wondering about someone’s views on raising taxes on the rich?

If it’s a guy, just look at his biceps.

Write-ups like this were catnip to conservatives, judging by top-ranked reader comments at the Daily Mail:

This does not surprise me one bit. Of course leftwingers are weak. Why else would they want everyone else to take care of them?

Yes, lefties are all wimps and cowards. Just got back from the gym by the way.

That would explain why all Lib-Dem men are wimps.

I’ve always said that people of a left-wing persuasion,are a product of an underlying laziness,or envy. Kind of runs alongside my theory!

Portraying Muscular Manly Men as conservative sounds positive, for conservatives. But Dr. Petersen and his colleagues found something very different:

In studies conducted in Argentina, Denmark, and the United States, men with greater upper-body strength more strongly endorsed the self-beneficial position: Among men of lower socioeconomic status (SES), strength predicted increased support for redistribution; among men of higher SES, strength predicted increased opposition to redistribution. Because personal upper-body strength is irrelevant to payoffs from economic policies in modern mass democracies, the continuing role of strength suggests that modern political decision making is shaped by an evolved psychology designed for small-scale groups.

In other words, Rich Muscular Manly Men vote against redistributive taxes because they don’t want to pay them. Poor Muscular Manly Men vote for those taxes, because they want the public benefits. Either way, Muscular Manly Men were more likely to vote in their own economic self-interest. They were more selfish.

Conversely, less muscular men – and women – were less likely to put self-interest above the needs of the community. From the MinnPost article:

“Our results demonstrate,” write the study’s authors, “that physically weak males are more reluctant than physically strong males to assert their self-interest – just as if disputes over national policies were a matter of direct physical confrontation among small numbers of individuals, rather than abstract electoral dynamics among millions.”

This strikes me as possibly a “just-so story.” It’s equally plausible that Muscular Manly Men are accustomed to getting their way in small groups, and thus think they should get their way when it comes to government policy. That explanation also holds for the researchers’ findings regarding women:

Only the men, though. For the study found no association between upper-body strength and views about income redistribution among its women participants. The researchers attribute this finding to their observation that, evolutionarily speaking, women “have less to gain and more to lose” from being aggressive.

“Or,” as the MinnPost‘s Susan Perry concludes, “maybe women have just further evolved?”

Humans are, in psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s term, “an ultrasocial species.” You survived the transition from Tree Ape to Plains Ape by communicating and cooperating, as women and most men still do. Muscular Manly Men … not so much.

Conservatives may think that’s a compliment. If so, they’re dumbbells.

Good day and good nuts.