Formidability assessment mechanisms: Examining their speed and automaticity


Throughout vertebrate evolution, asymmetries in the ability to inflict costs on others (i.e., formidability) have determined the outcomes of contests over limited resources. Therefore, natural selection would have favored mechanisms designed to efficiently and accurately estimate the formidability of conspecifics. Although previous research has provided evidence for the existence of adaptations for formidability assessment, the design features of these mechanisms have not been fully examined. In the current study, participants underwent a battery of tasks to test hypotheses regarding the speed and automaticity of formidability assessment mechanisms. Results suggest that formidability is automatically and rapidly tracked and assessed from visual cues. With a few inter- esting exceptions, characteristics of the raters (N = 187) and targets (N = 64) did not influence these assessments. Additionally, we present eye–tracking data to highlight the salience of upper–body musculature as a cue to physical strength. Taken together, these findings bolster and extend evidence for formidability assessment mechanisms in humans.

In Evolution and Human Behavior (E&HB).