The psychology of coalition. Why do men gather into gangs and political parties, but women do not

psychology of coalition

Men are more violent that women. It is fact that has been biologically and sociologically demonstrated. The male aggression has been predetermined by the roles of hunters and protectors that males have had throughout evolution. Thanks to a larger body volume and to much more developed muscles, males got the mission to protect the group from different aggressors from outside it [1]. But things are more interesting than that. The violent behavior of males cardinally influenced the life and social stratification of the tribes, and afterwards of modern societies. Some assumptions are particularly curious.


The psychology of coalition in men

One of the most recent hypotheses in explaining the male’s aggression is The Male-Warrior Hypothesis, proposed by a group of researchers from evolutionary psychology field. The hypothesis is based on the analyzing of an extensive scientific material, which confirms the existence of some specific behavioral programs in males. Male individuals have the genetic predetermination of manifesting more aggressively than female individuals, because the biosocial mission of men imposes a number of behavioral acts which involve the achievement of resources, the protection of the group, violence and fighting.

To a very large extent, the combative nature of men developed under the influence of the competitive relations and the conflicts between rival groups, from which a natural selection occurred in men, leading to the rise in their aggressiveness, xenophobia and warrior’s potential. The native predisposition towards fighting and violence has a much greater impact on men’s behavior that any cultural influence [Van Vugt et al., 2007; McDonald et al., 2012].

During a plea in defense of the Male-Warrior Hypothesis, one of its authors, the Dutch evolutionary psychologist Mark Van Vugt said trenchantly:
“To deny the existence of this aspect of the male psychology is just silly. It suggests that there are cultures in which the guys stay at home and the girls fight each other to death in violent tribal conflicts. If anyone can point me to the existence of such societies I will eat my hat and completely give up on the male warrior hypothesis! (Before you respond, please note that the notorious Amazonian warrior cults are mythical)” [2].

Another hypothesis from this field argues that men are more combative because they possess a “coalitional psychology” and tend to engage in coalitional aggressive acts. This distinctive masculine psychology proved its evolutionary adaptive function, because it gave men more chances for gaining alimentary resources and women, through fighting. The composition of coalitions varied from dyad (a pair of hunters) to hundreds of individuals, brought together by the same purpose; their creating was facilitated by natural selection itself, which favored united groups and acted worked for the occurrence of certain brain structures which would predispose hominids, then the human individuals towards cohesion relations, concerted actions and collective struggle. The creation of coalitions was a precondition for the emergence of major battles, including wars [Tooby, Cosmides, 1988, 2010].

According to evolutionary psychologists David Buss and Joshua Duntley, the creation of male alliances was also dictated by the desire of the individuals to better protect themselves against murder attempts of foreign men. Basically, the alliances were a kind of anti-killing strategy, very efficient, which became an adaptation in evolutionary terms [Buss, Duntley, 2002].

Lionel Tiger, a Canadian anthropologist, was also speaking about the biological origin of psychology. He is the author of the book “Men in Groups”, in which he states that men have inherited from distant ancestors the irreducible propensity to form groups, and this propensity has become a kind of “backbone” of human communities. Initially, these groups were designed for hunting activities, and later, with the disappearance of the need to hunt, groups were being formed based on other motivations. Through this ancestral group psychology, one can explain why men from contemporary societies tend to join teams of fans, of gangs, of closed clubs, of religious sects, of militant coalitions etc. [Tiger, 1969].


The hierarchical paradox in relations between women

On the other hand, female coalitions are almost inexistent; basically, in none of the studied cultures “gangs of women” were identified, while “gangs of men” can be found everywhere [Potts, 2006]. What is the cause of this phenomenon? First of all, women didn’t have the aggressive and defensive motivation that men have, which would require the creation of militant groups; their physical condition and mission of “future mothers” didn’t allow them to engage into acts of aggression and defense.

Then, one of the explanations is that women, no matter how unexpected this would sound, show a greater degree of hierarchical discrimination than men. That is, women prefer to establish social relationships with other women of the same status, avoiding those with a lower status. At least this tell us the results of a study made by Harvard’s psychologists. Therefore, it is harder for women to form coalitions because women are more selective and less tolerant of each other in terms of hierarchical stratification. They are even less open to networking in large numerical co operations. It’s curious the facts that, even from preschool’s age, boys demonstrate a desire for communication and group games, whereas girls usually prefer being friends with only one or two girls [Benenson et al., 2014].

At the same time, if women have quarrelled each other, it will take more time for them to reconcile, than it would have taken for men. Compared to men, they are less prepared to deal with an intrasexual conflict [Benenson et al., 20142].

Men’s higher availability to cooperate with individuals of different ranks, to come to terms more easily, allows them to create coalitions without difficulty; this advantage considerably benefiting them on social level. The psychology of coalition allowed men to dominate over the millennia on political, military and administrative levels. And namely the lack of a native psychology of coalition in women could be a cause of their subordination on social and political levels, despite the high performance of each woman individually.


The wars and group cohesion

By getting involved into territorial fights against foreigners, male coalitions ensure themselves a stronger consolidation, a “group morality” takes form; thus, the formation of coalitions enhanced the rate of intergroup conflicts, and the conflicts, at their turn, fortified the coalitions and the sense of comradeship between the men in the group. This effect applies also to the psychology of people nowadays. A research that was conducted on more than 1000 teenagers in Georgia and Sierra Leone, individuals who experienced the war atmosphere from their countries, showed significantly increased tendencies towards egalitarianism in their home groups [Bauer et al., 2013].

This “war effect”, recorded in real conditions, fits perfectly into the theories of evolutionary psychology which states that the external threat and fighting an enemy increases intra-group altruism and cooperation between individuals. Basically, male coalitions have caused war with other tribes, and those wars had the effect of strengthening the male coalitions; this is how human societies have coagulated.

Coalitional psychology has stored up deep into our genes and marks even today the difference in behavior between men and women. Men are even today instinctively favored to create gangs, alliances, sport teams and political parties. This group exercise is more difficult for women.


© Dorian Furtuna, ethologist


Photo: Warrior Adventure Quest /  from Flickr /

1. Aggression in men. Social roles or evolutionary roots? // by Dorian Furtuna. Social Ethology. October 14, 2014 /
2. Is the Male Sex Drive the Cause of Wars? Why men are biologically programmed to be warriors // by Mark van Vugt. February 9, 2012 /

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