Reports have recently appeared that
Blondes are more aggressive than brunettes.
This news has appeared over the interwebs, from the BBC (since modified, but the evidence is still there) to the Daily Mail (from where the headline above hails). And not too surprisingly, it is simply not true. Which is sad, because the truth is probably more interesting.
In a study called “Formidability and the logic of human anger” researches from the University of Washington, in a peer-reviewed paper, showed that one of the main factors in how angry we are is how “formidable” we believe ourselves to be. For men, this is predicted by strength; for women, it is predicted by attractiveness. So attractive women really are more angry. (But blondes are not more attractive than Brunettes, so the Daily Mail Headline is wrong). Additionally, it isn’t just how attractive or strong we actually are that matters, but how we perceive ourselves. Attractive and strong people have a higher sense of entitlement and are likely to get angry over smaller things because of this.
This is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, it indicates an evolutionary motivation for anger and aggressiveness, based on whether people will do what we say if we make a “threat” (which is what an angry response is). The more we can physically hurt them, refuse them things they want, or influence others to hurt them, the more likely we are to be successful with a threat. So this study helps us understand why people get angry, which may help us overcome getting angry in the wrong circumstances. Men primarily use strength to force their way, but women can both use strength (to a lesser degree), manipulation of men to exert strength, and removal of their favour.
Secondly, the results are in opposition to many leading theories about anger. People who are strong and attractive usually have easier lives than their less attractive competition; anger is not usually explainable by hard experiences in childhood, for example. It is interesting that we can both believe this theory and the above descriptions of threats, which are somewhat contradictory (although I’m sure both could be partially true).
Thirdly, the study looked at people’s opinion on their nation going to war. How angry people get at a personal level, and their strength or attractiveness, all predict how likely you are to support a war. This result seems the most bizarre to me; that a logical decision on a huge international conflict can be influenced by how pretty you are is a frightening thought. Yet it makes sense if we again consider the evolutionary context. In a small group conflict, those most able to win a fight are more likely to pick one; and that is the attractive strong people. If our decision to support a war is influenced by our own personal level of aggression, then it all drops in to place; we feel able to go to war if we ourselves feel powerful. We are more cautious if we have little personal power.
Of course, the usual caveats should be supplied here. Correlation is not causation; people are not inevitably driven by their genetics. Angry people are not always pretty or strong, and gentle people are not always weak and ugly! What we have here is simply an extra piece of the jigsaw, one that makes a lot of sense if we look to our primeval roots for explanation. Like most emotional behaviours, anger has pretty much lost its place in the modern world and the evolutionary forces driving it are going to be either absent, or more likely, preventing the most angry amongst us from being successful.
Pretty interesting, no?