Feeling Safe In Numbers

Christian Jarrett describes a study that examines how men size up conflict:

[Researchers] approached 149 men who were either on their own or in a group dish_aggressionchart of 2 to 7 friends. Each participant was taken to one side and shown a picture of a turbaned, bearded terrorist pointing a gun. The photo was cropped so the aggressor’s physical size was hidden. The participants were asked to estimate his physical size and muscularity …

The key finding was that participants with one or more friends tended to estimate that the terrorist was shorter by around one and a half inches, and less muscular (having more than one friend in tow didn’t exaggerate this effect). In contrast, participants who were alone or smaller stature tended to guess that the terrorist was more physically formidable.

The researchers also approached men in groups and gave them the same test either away from or nearby their friends:

Once again, the men tested with their friends nearby tended to estimate that the terrorist was less physically formidable, as compared with men tested on their own. “These findings indicate that the immediate presence of allies is an important factor in men’s estimations of the formidability of potential opponents,” the researchers said – a result that they suggested could be relevant for “violence prevention, policing and military science”.

Jarrett wonders, “Would the study replicate with women?”