Group display warfare group display

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Group display

  • What is group display?
  • Group display is when a group of people act in a certain way in public, using bodily gestures and sound, to intimidate.
  • They often involve the threat of aggression rather than actual aggression

WAR – what is it good for?

  • War = the formation of groups to attack others within the same species
  • More resources (e.g. food) from a bigger territory
  • More females and more offspring = transfer of genes in to the next generation (the main principle of Darwinian Evolution)
  • Men evolved as hunter gatherers and women needed protection and therefore women needed to ‘choose’ their mates carefully.
  • This would suggest that there was at least some advantageous reasoning behind acts of high cost heroic bravery for it to be a characteristic chosen of men by females.

Evolutionary explanations of war

  • While aggressive display can cost a person their life, by joining a group and taking part in a war there is a greater chance of survival compared to the individual acting alone.
  • Groups are more powerful and afford more protection, hence war is adaptive.
  • Success in war can give better access to resources, higher status and ultimately a greater chance of reproducing.
  • Mass rape as a weapon of war can be accounted for by the evolutionary approach to war: the threat of rape makes people flee their territory, and rape itself may result in the victim becoming pregnant, so the aggressors genes are continuing.
  • Since those who win wars are the most aggressive, these are the people who have passed on their genes, leading to a species who have had aggression selected into their behaviour

Notes away- Recap Q’s

  • Why, in terms of evolutionary theory, is it better to join a group and take part in war rather than acting alone?
  • What evolutionary advantages come from taking part in group displays such as war?
  • What evolutionary explanations are there for mass rape as a weapon of war?



  • Group displays are ritualised displays of aggression by and between groups of people
  • In modern society, tribal warfare has been replaced by sporting events in which different teams represent their tribes.
  • Sports involve displays of skills and strength, behaviour attractive to females who will select the winning males for reproductive success on the basis of their display of genetic fitness
  • The posturing and ritualised displays are not seen as violent however they could be a catalyst for serious acts of aggression

What message is this giving?

Explanation of group display: Sports

  • Aggression linked to victory
  • Victory = status = increase opportunity for survival
  • = access to resources
  • = desirability.
  • =reproductive success

Explanation of group display: Sports

  • Millwall vs West Ham incidents – YouTube
  • Xenophobia
  • Xenophobia appears to be the key to explaining the adaptive response to aggression during sporting events, at least in football crowds
  • Xenophobia is a dislike and/or fear of that which is unknown or different from oneself. It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning "stranger," "foreigner" and φόβος (phobos), meaning "fear."


  • irrational or unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.
  • Can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup (us and them)
  • Includes a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity
  • Wilson (1975) - Xenophobia appears in ‘virtually every group of animals displaying higher forms of social organisation.’ It’s a form of Natural selection.
  • MacDonald (1992)- adaptive to exaggerate negative stereotypes about outsiders which acts to increase ‘in group’ cohesion.

How does this link to football crowds?

  • It explains racism on the terraces, but how does this explain violence between clubs?
  • The rivalry between football fans in the UK has existed for 130 years or more.
  • The fans identify with their group and are hostile to the other fans because they are perceived as a possible threat.
  • Contrary to popular belief most crowds at sporting events are not aggressive, it’s just when something ‘kicks off’ it can be quite dramatic due to sheer numbers of those involved!
  • Only really football that has a hooligan problem, rugby (certainly union) is good natured and just consists of ‘friendly banter’ amongst fans.


  • What limitations are there in the Evolutionary approaches explanation
  • post hoc
  • Evidence not testable and therefore unscientific (lacks scientific validity)
  • Speculation
  • Limited in its ability to explain group display
  • Validating aggressive behaviour at sporting events: natural and biologically determined.
  • Socially sensitive
  • Methodological challenges to research
  • Group display driven by genes and serve the sole purpose of survival and enhancing reproductive success.
  • Gender bias: reinforces gender stereotypes


  • What other theories of aggression could explain this scenario?
  • - Fails to consider the role of cognitive and biological factors
  • - Social approach to aggression
    • De-individuation (reduced public awareness/increased anonymity)
    • In-groups and out-groups,
    • Vicarious reinforcement
    • Aggression: socially constructed in sports?
    • Xenophobia: need to reduce them and us attitudes


  • Haka – not ritualised forms of aggression: entertainment/commercial
  • Universal nature of war dances cross-culturally in sport suggests that the behaviour may have an evolutionary component related to ritualised aggression
  • Guttman (1986) Can one single explanation cover the behaviour of sporting crowds as they differ widely?


  • Sample of essay: identify weaknesses
  • Essay:
  • Place the statements in the correct order to form the essay.

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