Professor Bill von Hippel and doctoral student Richard Ronay, from UQ’s School of Psychology, have been examining the links between physical risk taking in young men and the presence of attractive women.
To examine this issue, they conducted a field experiment with young male skateboarders and found the skateboarders took more risks at the skate park when they were observed by an attractive female experimenter than when they were observed by a male experimenter.
This increased risk taking led to more successes but also more crash landings in front of the female observer (see for videos from the experiment).
Professor von Hippel and Mr Ronay also measured testosterone from participants’ saliva, and found that the skateboarders’ increased risk taking was caused by elevated testosterone levels brought about by the presence of the attractive female.
According to the researchers these findings suggest an evolutionary basis for male risk taking.
“Historically men have competed with each other for access to fertile women and the winners of those competitions are the ones who pass on their genes to future generations. Risk taking would have been inherent in such a competitive mating strategy,” said Professor von Hippel.
“Our results suggest that displays of physical risk taking might best be understood as hormonally fueled advertisements of health and vigor aimed at potential mates, and signals of strength, fitness, and daring intended to intimidate potential rivals.”
The researchers point out that although evolution may have favoured males who engage in risky behaviour to attract females, such behaviours can also be detrimental in terms of survival.
“Other instances of physical risk taking that contribute to men’s early mortality, such as dangerous driving and physical aggression, might also be influenced by increases in testosterone brought about by the presence of attractive women.”
This research is published in the current issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science (see http://spp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/1/1/57 for the abstract and a pdf of the article).
Media: Professor Bill von Hippel (07 3365 6220) or Richard Ronay (0413 698 206)