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What’s a guy’s view on taxes? Check out his biceps

A new study suggests that men’s upper-body strength predicts how they feel about economic redistribution.

Creative Commons/Michael Coghlan

Wondering about someone’s views on raising taxes on the rich?

If it’s a guy, just look at his biceps.

For a new study, published online this week in Psychological Science, suggests that men’s upper-body strength predicts how they feel politically about economic redistribution.

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Apparently, men with the biggest biceps — whether rich or poor — express stronger beliefs about redistribution than their less-bulky peers.

The study’s authors say the link may have something to do with our evolutionary past, when a show of physical strength was key to helping males in small-scale societies gain and defend resources.

For the study, about 1,500 men and women were recruited in Argentina, Denmark and the United States. The participants had their biceps measured (the best predictor of upper-body strength, according to the study’s authors) and filled out a questionnaire, which asked about their socioeconomic status and about their degree of support for or against different policies (such as higher taxes on the rich) that redistribute income and wealth.

An analysis of the data found a significant correlation between male physical strength and support for income-redistribution policies that reflect the participants’ own self-interest. Wealthy men in the study with the greatest upper-body strength were the least likely to support redistribution (such as higher taxes) while less wealthy men of similar strength were the most likely to support such policies.

In contrast, men with weaker biceps, no matter what their income level, were much less likely to be adamant about policies that ran against their own self-interest.

These findings were similar in all three countries, even though Argentina, Denmark and the United States have very different welfare systems.

“Our results demonstrate,” write the study’s authors, “that physically weak males are more reluctant than physically strong males to assert their self-interest — just as if disputes over national policies were a matter of direct physical confrontation among small numbers of individuals, rather than abstract electoral dynamics among millions.”

The authors point out that their study doesn’t prove that bulking up will cause men to take stronger positions on income-distribution policies. Still, political parties may be missing an opportunity. To whip up more enthusiasm for their party’s economic policies, perhaps they should be encouraging some of their members (the ones with the “right” income profile) to do several sets of push-ups daily.

Only the men, though. For the study found no association between upper-body strength and views about income redistribution among its women participants. The researchers attribute this finding to their observation that, evolutionarily speaking, women “have less to gain and more to lose” from being aggressive.

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Or maybe women have just further evolved?