Men are far more likely to engage in friendly physical contact such as handshakes, back pats and even hugs following competition than women, a new Harvard study has found.

While men are often portrayed as aggressive and combative, the study showed that, from the tennis court to the boxing ring - the modern-day equivalent of one-on-one conflict - men are more likely than women to make peace with their competitors after the final whistle blows.

Researchers studied videos of four sports in 44 countries and found that men are far more likely to engage in friendly physical contact - handshakes, back pats and even hugs - following competition than women. The study also lends credence to what researchers call the male warrior hypothesis - the notion that males broker good feelings after conflict to ensure they can call on allies to help defend the group in the future, researchers said.

This finding feels very counterintuitive because we have social science and and evolutionary biology models that tell us males are much more competitive and aggressive, said Joyce Benenson from Harvard University in the US. The study was sparked by questions of how men prevail against outside groups - whether in war or in symbolic battles like business deals - while still continually competing with others in their own group.

Earlier studies had shown male chimps were more likely than females to try to put hard feelings to rest following a head-to-head conflict, spurring researchers to wonder whether the same might be true among humans. To get at the question, they turned to a modern form of conflict - sports. Sports provide identical conflicts for males and females, so sex differences can be objectively examined, researchers said. Searching YouTube and the video archive of several international sports federations, they found hundreds of videos of tennis, table tennis, badminton and boxing matches, and focused their attention not on the match itself, but its immediate aftermath. Researchers watched hundreds of matches, taking care to ensure no player was repeated in any match, and found clear sex differences in all four sports.



Most people think of females as being less competitive, or more cooperative, so you might expect there would be more reconciliation between females, said Benenson. With unrelated same-sex peers however, after conflicts, in males you see these very warm handshakes and embraces, even in boxing after they’ve almost killed each other, Benenson said. What we are talking about is women having a harder time when they have to compete with other women, she added. The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.