Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology

Degree Level



Psychological Science


Brown, Mitch

Committee Member/Reader

Wamsley, Dene

Committee Member/Second Reader

Moxley, Shari

Committee Member/Third Reader

Wheeler, Jill


The recurring threat of physical aggression throughout human evolutionary history presented a selection pressure that favored perceptual acuity threatening people. One heuristic of threat is men's formidability, often indexed by upper body strength. Although functional, such responses could be mismatched with demands of the U.S. legal system. The demands of a fair legal system could be at odds with ancestrally informed motives that serve to mitigate harm, a bias that has previously been demonstrated to increase sentencing length based on features deemed aggressive. This study extends previous findings by focusing on men's upper body strength while assessing how specific motivations to protect oneself from harm inform sentencing decisions. Participants reported dispositional beliefs in a dangerous world and provided sentencing recommendations for a male target convicted of aggravated assault. Women recommended less lenient sentences toward strong men when they believed the world was dangerous. Men's punitive decisions were not associated with such beliefs. These findings suggest that functional perceptions of formidability may inform with legal decision-making, particularly when considering physical size asymmetries imposed by sexual selection.


physical aggression, upper body strength, functional biases, dangerous world beliefs