Have you ever participated in drinking games? Have you ever played those games with your friends? Which friends play the games more often? Is it a guy friend or a girl friend? Who is more competitive in general?

Cross-sectional findings show that men participate in drinking games more frequently than women do; the sex differences are mediated by men’s lower levels of sexual restrictedness, higher levels of social competitiveness, motivations for participating in drinking games (Hone, Carter and McCullough, 2013). The evolutionary explanation behind this observed competitiveness during drinking game is linked to intrasexual completion among males in approaching potential females. Does it mean that females are not competitive?

Evolutionarily speaking, women bear heavier costs with internal fertilization, higher parental investment shorter reproductive lifespans and number of potential offspring in life (Buss, 2003). From conception, women have to bear the child internally for about 9 months while the man’s duty is biologically done. Because of lactation even after the conception, the female parental investment is still very much higher than males (Although human males are one of the primate species with heavy usually lifelong paternal investment, maternal investment is higher. The egg from female is more “expensive” than the sperm.) Therefore while females tend to be choosier and take fewer physical risks in selecting mates (Males usually compete for females, not the other way. I will write more about male risk taking behaviors from evolutionary analysis in the future), men take more risks in impressing choosier females.

Bar fights may also be an indication of intense intrasexual competition during drinking. Incidents in bars and clubs often occur between males or groups of males (Graham & Wells, 2003). They reported that all incidents reported by males in the study involved other males as their primary opponents while only two of the incidents, out of nine interviews with females, reported to involve only females.

The next question we may then ask is whether intrasexual competition while drinking (be it in the form of drinking game competition or bar fights) leads to mating success. The answer seems to be positive to certain extent. For example, sexual consequences, ranging from kissing, sexual comments and sexual touch, were reported to be significantly higher in male participants during or after playing drinking games (Johnson and Sheets, 2004). (And yes, there could be a wide varieties of other reasons why they got all these sexual consequences.)

However, I think males who are frequently and heavily drunk might be perceived as mates with lower mate values (unattractive as a long term mate) because such males could signal low levels of ambition, commitment, and investment towards potential relationship.

Another interesting finding is that male risk taking behaviors increased in the presence of fertile females who are in ovulation; the presence of fertile female confederate in the room is associated with higher risk-taking behaviors in men (Miller and Maner, 2011). Compared to those who smelled a non-fertile female’s T-shirt, male participants who smelled a T-short worn by a fertile female significantly consumed greater amount of alcohol and approached more toward female cues.

One thing to keep in mind is that neither evolutionary psychology findings nor I condone the notion that drinking is adaptive. The reports are only descriptive. Life history theory predicts that reproduction mindset (others factors being growth, and repair, survivorship) takes over a huge role in adult life. What I am saying is that these opportunistic and evolved mating mindsets even become more intense on the mating grounds where alcohol is available and influencing our executive functions and thoughts.


Buss, D. M. (2003). The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating (2nd ed). New York: Basic Books.

Hone, L. S. E., Carter, E. C., & McCullough, M. E. (2013). Drinking games as a venue for sexual competition. Evolutionary Psychology, 11(4), 889-906.

Graham, K., and S. Wells (2003). ‘Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked in Tonight!’ Aggression among young males in bars—A question of values? British Journal of Criminology, 43(3):546–566.

Johnson, T. J., & Sheets, V. L. (2004). Measuring college students’ motives for playing drinking games. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18(2), 91-99. doi:10.1037/0893-164X.18.2.91

Miller, S. L., & Maner, J. K. (2011). Ovulation as a male mating prime: Subtle signs of women’s fertility influence men’s mating cognition and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(2), 295-308. doi:10.1037/a0020930


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