On the evolution of sport

Evol Psychol. 2012 Jan 2;10(1):1-28.


Sports have received little attention from evolutionary biologists. I argue that sport began as a way for men to develop the skills needed in primitive hunting and warfare, then developed to act primarily as a lek where athletes display and male spectators evaluate the qualities of potential allies and rivals. This hypothesis predicts that (1) the most popular modern male sports require the skills needed for success in male-male physical competition and primitive hunting and warfare; (2) champion male athletes obtain high status and thereby reproductive opportunities in ways that parallel those gained by successful primitive hunters and warriors; (3) men pay closer attention than do women to male sports so they can evaluate potential allies and rivals; and (4) male sports became culturally more important when opportunities to evaluate potential allies and rivals declined as both the survival importance of hunting and the proportion of men who experience combat decreased. The characteristics of primitive and modern sports are more consistent with these predictions than those generated by intersexual sexual selection theories of sport.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Cultural Evolution
  • Female
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychological Theory
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sociobiology / methods
  • Sports / psychology*
  • Warfare*