Aggressive-Antisocial Boys Develop Into Physically Strong Young Men

Joshua D. Isen, Matthew K. McGue, William G. Iacono

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Young men with superior upper-body strength typically show a greater proclivity for physical aggression than their weaker male counterparts. The traditional interpretation of this phenomenon is that young men calibrate their attitudes and behaviors to their physical formidability. Physical strength is thus viewed as a causal antecedent of aggressive behavior. The present study is the first to examine this phenomenon within a developmental framework. We capitalized on the fact that physical strength is a male secondary sex characteristic. In two longitudinal cohorts of children, we estimated adolescent change in upper-body strength using the slope parameter from a latent growth model. We found that males’ antisocial tendencies temporally precede their physical formidability. Boys, but not girls, with greater antisocial tendencies in childhood attained larger increases in physical strength between the ages of 11 and 17. These results support sexual selection theory, indicating an adaptive congruence between male-typical behavioral dispositions and subsequent physical masculinization during puberty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)444-455
Number of pages12
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 18 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2015


  • adolescent development
  • aggression
  • antisocial behavior
  • physical strength


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