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J Evol Biol. 2009 Sep;22(9):1854-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2009.01793.x. Epub 2009 Jul 3.

Ritual fights and male reproductive success in a human population.

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Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution, Université Montpellier II, Montpellier, France.


Ritual fights are widespread across human populations. However, the evolutionary advantage associated with this behaviour is unclear because these fights rarely provide direct benefits such as territory, resources or mates. Here, the reproductive success of men competing in a traditional ritual fight, Sereer wrestling, was investigated for the first time. Involvement in wrestling had a significant positive effect on men's number of offspring and a marginally significant effect on polygyny, controlling for age, body condition and socio-economic status. These positive effects suggest that being involved in wrestling competition provides prestige, facilitating access to mates and thereby increasing fecundity. However, when women were interviewed on their preference concerning qualities of potential mates, the quality 'being involved in wrestling competition' was poorly ranked. This discrepancy may arise either from deceptive reports or from discordance between parents and daughters in the choice of a husband.

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