In the game of life, passing on your precious DNA is the ultimate prize, and according to a recent study, violent men are taking the lead in the biological race by far. The study found that men who take part in physical violent conflict are more likely to have more offspring, thus furthering the demand for this otherwise unsavory characteristic.

You know how your mom told you not to worry about the guy who bullied you in grammar school because he was never going to amount to anything. Well, she may have been mistaken. Luke Glowacki, a doctoral student working from Harvard University found in his recent study that evolution tends to reward men who engage in violent acts against others.

"The currency of evolution is reproductive success," Glowacki said in a recent press release. "By having more wives you can have more children. What we found was that, over the course of their lives, those who took part in more raids had more children."

Glowacki, curator of Primate Behavioral Biology in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, assisted by Richard Wrangham and Ruth Moore, professors of biological anthropology, studied members of an East African herding tribe. The team observed that men who engaged in violent and often murderous raids on their neighboring groups often had more wives and thus have more children over the course of their lives.

There is good news, though. Humans aren’t born with a preference for violence. Instead, Glowacki found this inclination to be mediated by “powerful cultural forces.” The paper found that the specific key to reproductive success was showing that he was able to provide for prospective females and offspring. In the East African tribe, livestock was central to life and was a necessary prerequisite for most marriages and raiding dictated who had livestock and who did not.

"After a raid young men give any livestock they capture to the elders and the raider cannot use them at that point even if he wants to get married. Later in life, as the raider gets older he can gain access to them, so there's a lag in receiving benefits from participating in a raid," Glowacki said.

In this African tribe, like many other cultures observed around the world, a dowry is required and being a warrior, no matter what type, offers males a way to increase their chances of affording this dowry.

The researchers found that this brutal aspect of human natural was actually linked to a much more civil human characteristic: cooperation.

“Why do people do things that benefit their group if they have to pay a cost?” Glowacki asked. “For the Nyangatom, there are no formal institutions governing society, and yet they manage to make a living from one of the toughest landscapes on Earth, and they do that through cooperation."

The raids, though violent, are only beneficial through the unspoken understanding and cooperation among the tribe people. The raids do not hold immediate benefits, since the young men always hand over their life stock to the elders. However, trusting that they will one day reap the benefits from their actions keeps the community together while also keeping the violence in check. In communities where raiders aren’t expected to return, the rates of violence are significantly higher, the researchers explained.

Source: Glowacki L, Wrangham R. Warfare and reproductive success in a tribal population. PNAS. 2014.