10 Interesting Psychology Facts about Polygamy

Saturday 3 September 2016 0 comments

10 Interesting Psychology Facts about Polygamy

Polygamy is a relationship where people have multiple partners at the same time, and while many people today cringe at the thought of sharing their partner with one or more individuals, there is a vast wealth of historical, psychological and evolutionary information that suggests that this type of relationship is actually normal in humans. From today’s mormon groups and tribal cultures to yesterday’s ancient greeks and hunter-gatherers, there are plenty of examples of polygamous relationships throughout history.

1. Farms
A great deal of human history was spent during the early days of agriculture, where cities were rare and the majority of the population lived on farms. This made it incredibly advantageous to have as many children as possible. Because one man can father many more children if he is able to impregnate multiple women simultaneously, this type of relationship would have been common during these times as it ensures a plentiful supply of workers for the farm. Over time, the trait in males to actively pursue this type of relationship would have been passed down as an evolutionary adaptation.

2. Great Ape Ancestors 
Clues to why humans are prone to polygamy can be found in our great ape ancestors, such as Chimps, Bonobos and Gorillas. Male Chimpanzees have evolved to compete with each other for access to more than one female while living in a group comprising of many males and females. Male Gorillas have evolved to fiercely defend an entire group of females, and less powerful males are left unable to mate. Bonobo mating is incredibly complex, although a key point is that in a group of males and females, one member mates with every other member of the tribe, and vice versa. Mating in Bonobos serves as a way to reduce stress and increase the bond of the group. Since we share a huge percentage of our DNA with great apes (from 97-99%), there is no doubt that we inherited some of these polygamous traits from our ape ancestors.

3. Chromosome tests
A recent study of the human chromosome suggests some interesting things about our mating patterns throughout the ages. Scientists have analyzed our genetic code, and were able to figure out if the input of females to our DNA was greater than that of males. In other words, were females mating more than males in human history? The answer is yes, females have contributed almost twice as much DNA as males to our current genetic makeup. This is because males have been more likely to impregnate two females if they did manage to mate in our evolutionary history, and so two females were able to pass on their genes for every male that was able to do the same. This suggests that we have been polygamous throughout the majority of human evolution.

4. Men are able to impregnate multiple females at once 
The clearest and most logical explanation of why humans are prone to polygamy is simple. Humans are able to reproduce faster if multiple females are impregnated by the same male. Females are much more valuable to reproduction than males. Consider a situation in which 11 people are the sole survivors of a great flood. If you have only one female with a group of ten males, think about how slowly it would take to produce offspring. Not only that, but the offspring would all be related maternally and inbreeding would result if not exposed to an external population. On the other hand, one male and ten females would not only ensure a much larger amount of offspring, but also reduce any chances of inbreeding. Therefore, these strong genes of humans who are polygamous would would be passed on to us today.

5. War
War has been an ever-present factor throughout human evolution and history, and may have played a major role in determining human mating strategies. First of all, men are almost always the only gender to engage in war. Therefore, men die in droves while women are unaffected. This leads to a scarcity in males that necessitates polygyny in females, as one man is required to impregnate multiple females in order to rebuild the population. In addition, one theory suggests that men are more likely to go to war if they are not engaged in marriage or similar monogamous relationships. In theory, this would cause societies that engage in stable, monogamous relationships to be wiped out and destroyed by societies full of warlike men who are not “tied down” by a wife or partner. These warlike men may make up a large percentage of our ancestry.
6. Sexual Dimorphism
Sexual Dimorphism refers to the difference in physical structure between males and females of a species. Sexual Dimorphism indicates competition between males, as males evolve to be larger and more powerful to fight off competing males, whereas females have nowhere near as much of a need to compete with each other, and so their physical structure stays pretty much the same. Humans display considerable Sexual Dimorphism, and so there is no doubt that human males have a long evolutionary history of competing with one another. Because of this, strong males would have been able to fight off weaker males, thereby denying them access to females and mating with at least more than one female as a result.

7. Female preference for dominant males 
Females seem to have a psychological tendency to display a preference for dominant males rather than weaker males. This is no doubt a result of human evolution. In order to ensure her offspring were strong, females throughout early human evolution would have chosen males that displayed dominance, and refused males that they viewed as being weaker. Human evolution is characterized by extremely choosy females, and they have the ability to deny those males who they deem unsuitable. This would lead to only a small percentage of males mating with a large number of females, another indicator of polygamy in human evolution.

8. Female promiscuity to confuse parentage
One of the biggest concerns for females throughout evolution was the well-being of their infants. This was one of the main reasons that females made certain that they chose males who were strong and intelligent enough to protect them. One of the most interesting things about ape reproduction is that in some species, females are prone to increased promiscuity, or mating with multiple males. This is actually an evolutionary adaptation. In order to make sure that not just one, but multiple males all try to protect her infant, the female will mate with as many males as possible, in order to fool them all into thinking that the infant is theirs. In reality, the real father of the infant is unknown. This is another evolutionary adaptation that could have been passed on to us.

9. Mating seasons and Congregations 
One of the most common ways for early humans and human ancestors to mate was to congregate during mating seasons at special meeting places. These places could be areas where there was a huge amount of food at a certain time of year, and so many different groups of humans from different areas would all meet and interact. These interactions commonly resulted in mating between groups. This is a great evolutionary adaptation because it ensures that there is limited inbreeding and promotes strong genes being passed on. Females would use these opportunities to mate, often going back each year and finding a new partner each time. These were common occurrences, and no doubt contributed to our evolution and genetic structure today.

10. Human intelligence 
The thing that sets humans apart from animals more than any other thing is our intelligence. The evolution of our intelligence may have played a major role in our tendency towards polygamous relationships. Weaker, smaller males would have had no other option but to employ their wits when trying to steal mates away from stronger, larger males. Even today, intelligent males are more likely to be successful and find a partner. This suggests that eventually, the intelligent males probably beat the stronger males in the race between brains and brawn. In one example, a male Chimp was observed to smash a metal cannister into the ground, scaring the other (larger) males away long enough for this intelligent Chimp to mate with many of the females. Such an example shows how intelligence not only increases the chances for a male to mate, but also the likelihood of a group engaging in polygamy.

Bonus: 11. Wealth 
Today, we live in a society where 1% of the population hold 90% of the world’s wealth. But is this anything new? Since ancient history there have been countless kings, pharaohs, and emperors, all of them holding a huge amount of a population’s wealth and, most importantly, an unlimited supply of females. It is a commonly known fact that Genghis Khan fathered so many offspring that a huge percentage of people today are related to him. The same is true for countless other monarchs, although to a lesser degree. Along with the genes of these monarchs, the same traits of these ancestors are passed on, most notably the tendency and the drive to pursue polygamous relationships.
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