Evolutionary theory has gained some ground in the social sciences, but not without resistance. It must be said that at least some of the resistance on the part of social scientists is justified insofar as social and cultural phenomena such as sports are often much more complex than many evolutionary theorists seem to think. We propose in this paper an evolutionary approach to sports that takes into account its profoundly cultural character, thereby overcoming the traditional nature-culture dichotomies in the sociology of sport. We argue that there are good reasons to view sports as culturally evolved signaling systems which serve a function similar to courtship rituals in other animals. Our approach combines the insights of evolutionary psychology, which states that biological adaptations determine the boundaries for the types of sport that are possible, and pure cultural theories, which describe the mechanism of cultural evolution without once referring to sport’s biological base. We substantiate this integrative theoretical framework by identifying several biological and cultural factors which may moderate the direct effect that signaling value has on a sport’s viability or popularity. A discussion of this framework’s implications for future theoretical and empirical research concludes this essay.
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DOI 10.1353/pbm.0.0063
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