"It all boils down to the fact that status for men typically equals sex," Vladas Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota said in a statement. "Across different cultures and time, the higher status men have, the more sex or better-quality partners they may have. At the gene-level, nobody wants to go down in an evolutionary blaze of glory -- no one wants their genes to become extinct. Additionally, unlike low-status women, low-status men are in serious danger of not reproducing, since they make especially undesirable mates."
The study, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, said that for men, fighting for status is akin to fighting for the survival of their genes, while not caring about status -- backing away from a fight -- can be evolutionary suicide.
If men are thinking about a promotion or an attractive woman, they will more quickly respond aggressively to a trivial insult -- especially if there are other men around to watch, suggesting that much of aggression is about display rather than self-defense.