Sex begets violence: Mating motives, social dominance, and physical aggression in men

Sarah E. Ainsworth*, Jon K. Maner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


There are sizable gender differences in aggressive behavior, with men displaying a much higher propensity for violence than women. Evolutionary theories suggest that men's more violent nature derives in part from their historically greater need to compete over access to potential mates. The current research investigates this link between mating and male violence and provides rigorous experimental evidence that mating motives cause men to behave violently toward other men. In these studies, men and women were primed with a mating motive and then performed a noise-blast aggression task. Being primed with mating led men, but not women, to deliver more painful blasts of white noise to a same-sex partner 115058304. This effect was particularly pronounced among men with an unrestricted sociosexual orientation, for whom competition over access to new mates is an especially relevant concern. Findings also suggest that mating-induced male violence is motivated by a desire to assert one's dominance over other men: when men were given feedback that they had won a competition with their partner (and thus had achieved dominance through nonaggressive means), the effect of the mating prime on aggression was eliminated. These findings provide insight into the motivational roots of male aggression and illustrate the value of testing theories from evolutionary biology with rigorous experimental methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-829
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Aggression
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Mating
  • Motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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