No, Having Big Bicepts Doesn't Mean You'll Be More Conservative

arnold schwarzenegger

A study by a group of researchers about biceps and politics that has made waves over the past couple of days following its publication in

Psychological Science has been widely misinterpreted by several news outlets.The study looked at correlations between a man’s socioeconomic status, his upper body strength, and his political views. 

What it found was this:

Specifically, men with greater upper-body strength should more strongly favour redistribution if they are poor but oppose it if they are wealthy. […] First, for males of low [socioeconomic status], physical strength should positively correlate with support for redistribution; second, for males of high [socioeconomic status], physical strength should negatively correlate with support for redistribution

That means that stronger men had stronger opinions about politics. Poorer, “stronger” men favoured redistribution more intently than poorer, “weaker” people. And richer, “stronger” men also opposed redistribution more intently than richer, “weaker” men. 

In essence, the stronger the man was, the more passionate they are in political opinions that favour their own self interest. The study aligns with both socioeconomic groups’ self-interests in either favouring or opposing redistribution.

Here’s a chart showing how the more upper body strength someone has, the stronger they support politics that favour their own personal economic self-interest:

Psychological Science

But the study was widely misinterpreted, mostly by conservative-leaning outlets, and spread into a common meme.

The Daily Mail’s un-bylined article claimed that “men who are physically strong are more likely to have right wing political views,” and that “weaker men more likely to support welfare state and wealth redistribution.” Neither of those assertions is fully supported by the study.

Later, Betsi Fores at The Daily Caller claimed the study found “that men with strong upper-bodies tend to be more opposed to economic redistribution than their weak armed counter parts,” an assertion that is also not supported by the study.

Finally, the staff of the site Science 2.0, an independent science blog, went as far as to claim that “Physical Strength And Political Conservatism Co-Evolved.”

It comes down to a misinterpretation of the line, “In all three countries, physically strong males consistently pursue the self-interested position on redistribution.”

These outlets assumed — or intentionally implied — that it’s in everyone’s self interest to oppose redistribution.

If you want to read the study for yourself, find the full piece here and a supplement here.

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