Outline and Evaluate Group Display in Aggression

Group display refers to displays of aggressive behaviour by groups which are described as three or more people gathered together for a common purpose. By studying animals that display aggression, it is clear that this sort of display is an adaptive response that minimises actual physical contact and therefore the chances of physical injury or death.

Xenophobia is often present in sports events, with chants and signals often exhibited in the crowds of football matches. Many psychologists believe that natural selection has favoured the genes which cause humans to be altruistic towards members of their own group but intolerant towards outsiders. This may be because it would have prompted our ancestors to be suspicious towards strangers, helping them to avoid attack.

Another explanation for the evolution of group displays in sport is based on territoriality, the protective response to an invasion of one’s territory. Studies have revealed that sports players feel a greater burden in matches when ‘defending the home territory’ and some teams use aggressive displays to intimidate their opponents. Such displays may have been adaptive for our ancestors because they allowed groups to defend valuable resources associated with their territory.

EVANS AND ROWE (2002) analysed data relating to 40 football matches played in 1999/2000. All 40 games were played in continental Europe and involved both English Club sides (e.g. Manchester United) and the English National side. They used post match reports and interviews with the police and came to the conclusion that there was more aggression associated with the National Football games than the club games. This finding was attributed to the influence of nationalism and xenophobia. A possible reason for these findings may be that the English club sides were more ethnically diverse, therefore less likely to invoke xenophobic responses from the supporters.

This explanation has real world applications. Many football teams have taken steps to minimise xenophobia within sports. Some football teams have also made contributions to local ethnic communities and have donated to anti-racism charities.

The ‘home advantage’ in sports events is thought to be due to territoriality: players are more determined not to lose in their own territory than in another team’s. However, football fans have rated crowd support as the most significant factor contributing to a home advantage. This idea has been disputed, as studies have found that a larger crowd does not give the team an advantage. This supports the evolutionary notion that the home advantage is due to territoriality.

This has been supported by further research. One study by MOORE ET AL analyse the results of several professional basketball matches performed with crowds and without crowds (due to a measles epidemic). They found that the absence of home crowds actually increased perfomance of the teams. This suggests that the home advantage is not due to crowd support and so it likely due to territoriality, supporting the evolutionary view.

Research support: FOLDESI (1996) provides evidence to support the link between xenophobia and violent displays amoung Hungarian football crowds. He found that racist conduct of core extremists supporters led to an increase of spectators’ violence in general,  and xenophobic outbursts in particluar.

MARSH (1978) offers an alternative explanation of the aggressive displays of football crowds. He claims that much of what passes for violent behaviour is actually higher organised and ritualised. Being a football hooligan, enables young males to achieve a sense of personal worth and identity in the eyes of their peers. Group displays of aggression, therefore, are not, according to Marsh, an indication of underlying xenophobic tendencies, but part of an alternative ‘career structure’ for working class males.

Warfare is another evolutionary explanation of group display. Groups compete for a higher status, by gaining land and resources, which will then bring in female attention, therefore improve their reproductive success. For example, male warriors in traditional societies tend to have more sexual partners and more children suggesting a direct reproductive benefit (CHANGON, 1988). Men who are more aggressive will be more likely to win wars, and these aggressive genes will be passed on to further generations.  Bravery and aggression will increase an individual’s respect within a group, and if all members are respected then the group can focus on their similarities rather than their differences allowing them to work more successfully as a group, and therefore share equal status.

KELLY & DUNBAR (2001) claim that heroic acts may therefore have evolved owing to a female preference for brave, risk prone males, because such behaviour is an ‘honest cue for good genes’ as it is more likely that males that are willing to commit such ‘brave’ acts will also protect them in times of danger. 

KELLY & DUNBAR (2001) also argue that the bravest men would be the most successful hunters and therefore this would lead to better social status and their mates would enjoy the benefits of this higher social status as well.

STEAMS (1989) claims that females may choose mates that exhibit bravery as these ‘corageous genes’ will be advantageos to the group in the future as the produced offspring will be more successful in defending the group in times of need.

FARTHING (2005). Surveyed whether men and women desired physical risk takers as partners and the result was that only when the risks were considered ‘brave’ there was a significant advantage in mate selection. Physical risks that were not considered ‘brave’ were not an advantageous mate quality.

Research has supported the importance of aggressive dispays in determining the sexual attractiveness of male warriors. LEUNISSEN found that military men have greater sex appeal but only if they have been observed showing bravery in combat. Tilley found that male youth street gangs members have more sexual partners than ordinary young males.

Some psychologists believe that aggressive displays are not due to biological-compulsions but are due to environmental changes. War emerged when humans shifted from a nomadic existence to a settled one where they were tied to agriculture or fishing sites. Because of this, people had to fight in order to protect their sites. So rather than being an evolutionary adaptation, warfare may have emerged as a rational response to a changing lifestyle.

Explanations of warfare that are based on mating success or commitment fail to explain the extreme

levels of cruelty that are often found in human wars yet not among non-human species. Evolutionary psychologists struggle to explain why humans torture or mutilate their opponents when they no longer pose a threat. This may be more a consequence of deindividuation than of evolutionary adaption.

Evolutionary explanations of warfare struggle to explain the role of women. Women have often played a very important role in warfare. For example. The Dahomey Amazons were an all-female army who conquered much of North-West Africa. However, evolutionary explanations struggle to explain this, as women would have considerably less to gain from fighting and more to lose in terms of their reproductive capacity.  Our understanding of displays of warfare is largely limited to males.

The evolutionary theory is post-hoc, based on events that have already passed and applying abstract concepts retrospectively which cannot be scientifically tested. The evolutionary theory is gender biased and reinforces gender stereotypes and is therefore alpha biased (i.e. men are physically aggressive in order to increase their reproductive fitness.  How many women like war and violence?

This theory also implies that aggression at football matches is instinctive, suggesting that being aggressive in such environments is out of our conscious control and therefore deterministic. It ignores the idea that a person can watch others behave aggressively at sport events but choose not to participate. This theory therefore implies people can’t help being aggressive at sport events and suggest that they cannot be held responsible for their actions in this environment, having socially sensitive implications for society.

The theory cannot explain why football is more prone to hooliganism and aggression that any other sport. This means the evolutionary explanation of group displays of aggression in sports fails to explain why it is that fans of athletics, swimming etc. don’t wear clothes and wave flags to represent who they’re supporting or don’t show the same levels of aggression. This suggests that other social factors must explain why some sports are associated with aggression more than others; therefore the theory is ignoring vital influences.