I was alerted to a NEEPS (Northeastern Evolutionary Psychology Society) conference paper, and one of the short abstracts of a talk had a bit about ‘nerds’, ‘jocks’, and differing life history strategies. Surprisingly, the results did not line up with current stereotypes about life outcomes for the two groups.
The Life History of the Nerd and Jock: Reproductive Implications of High School Labels
The present research sought to explore whether labels such as “nerd” and “jock” represent different life history strategies. We hypothesized that self-identified nerds would seek to maximize future reproductive success while the jock strategy would be aimed at maximizing current reproductive success. We also empirically tested Belsky’s (1997) theory of attachment style and life history. A mixed student/community sample was used (n=312, average age = 31) and completed multiple questionnaires on Survey Monkey. Dispelling stereotypes, nerds in high school had a lower income and did not demonstrate a future orientation in regards to reproductive success, although they did have less offspring. Being a jock in high school was related to a more secure attachment style, higher income, and higher perceived dominance. (NEEPS, 2017: 11)
This goes against all conventional wisdom; how could ‘jocks’ have better life outcomes than ‘nerds’, if the stereotype about the blubbering idiot jock is supposedly true?
Future orientation is “The degree to which a collectivity encourages and rewards future-oriented behaviors such as planning and delaying gratification (House et al, 2004,p. 282).“ So the fact that self-reported nerds did not show future orientation in regards to reproductive success is a blow to some hypotheses, yet they did have fewer children.
However, there are other possibilities that could explain why so-called nerds have fewer children, for instance, they could be seen as less attractive and desirable; could be seen as anti-social due to being, more often than not, introverted; or they could just be focusing on other things, and not worrying about procreating/talking to women so they end up have fewer children as result. Nevertheless, the fact that nerds ended up having lower income than jocks is pretty telling (and obvious).
There are, of course, numerous reasons why a student should join a sport. One of the biggest is that the skills that are taught in team sports are most definitely translatable to the real world. Most notably, one who plays sports in high school may be a better leader and command attention in a room, and this would then translate over to success in the post-college/high school world. The results of this aren’t too shocking—to people who don’t have any biases, anyway.
Why may nerds in high school have had lower income in adulthood? One reason could be that the social awkwardness did not translate into dollar signs after high school/college graduation, or chose a bad major, or just didn’t know how to translate their thoughts into real-world success. Athletes, on the other hand, have the confidence that comes from playing sports and they know how to work together with others as a cohesive unit in comparison to nerds, who are more introverted and shy away from being around a lot of people.
Nevertheless, this flew in the faces of the stereotypes of nerds having greater success after college while the jocks—who (supposedly) don’t have anything beyond their so-called ‘primitive’ athletic ability—had greater success and more money. This flies in the face of what others have written in the past about how nerds don’t have greater success relative to the average population, well this new presentation says otherwise. Thinking about the traits that jocks have in comparison to nerds, it doesn’t seem so weird that jocks would have greater life outcomes in comparison to nerds.
Self-reported nerds, clearly, don’t don’t have the confidence to make the stratospheric amounts of cash that people would assume that they should make because they are knowledgeable in a few areas, on the contrary. Those who could use their body’s athletic ability had more children as well as had greater life success than nerds, which of course flew in the face of stereotypes. Certain stereotypes need to go, because sometimes stereotypes do not tell the truth about some things; it’s just what people believe ‘sounds good’ in their head.
If you think about what it would take, on average, to make more money and have great success in life after high school and college, you’ll need to know how to talk to people and how to network, which the jocks would know how to do. Nerds, on the other hand, who are more ‘socially isolated’ due to their introverted personality, would not know too much about how to network and how to work together with a team as a cohesive unit. This, in my opinion, is one reason why this was noticed in this sample. You need to know how to talk to people in social settings and nerds wouldn’t have that ability—relative to jocks anyway.
Jocks, of course, would have higher perceived dominance since athletes have higher levels of testosterone both at rest and exhaustion (Cinar et al, 2009). Athletes, of course, would have higher levels of testosterone since 1) testosterone levels rise during conflict (which is all sports really are, simulated conflict) and 2) dominant behavior increases testosterone levels (Booth et al, 2006). So it’s not out of the ordinary that jocks were seen as more dominant than their meek counterparts. In these types of situations, higher levels of testosterone are needed to help prime the body for what it believes is going to occur—competition. Coupled with the fact that jocks are constantly in situations where dominance is required; engage in more physical activity than the average person; and need to keep their diet on point in order to maximize athletic performance, it’s no surprise that jocks showed higher dominance, as they do everything right to keep testosterone levels as high as possible for as long as possible.
I hope there are videos of these presentations because they all seem pretty interesting, but I’m most interested in locating the video for this specific one. I will update on this if/when I find a video for this (and the other presentations listed). It seems that these labels do have ‘differing life history strategies’, and, despite what others have argued in the past about nerds having greater success than jocks, the nerds get the short end of the stick.