Why flee when you can fight: the counter-evolutionary practice of bullfighting

A bullfight conjures many images, such as cheering crowds, brave matadors, and rushing bulls. A bullfighter earns respect and attention because, unlike most of the population, he dares to step into the bullring and face a bull. In the process the bullfighter asserts control over the body and controls the innate response to run and instead seeks to fight the bull. So when a bullfighter decides to run from a bull instead of fight it, albeit a natural evolutionary response, it becomes a newsworthy event.

A news report shows a video of a bullfighter who, took the traditional evolutionary route and fled from an attacking bull. Although running from bulls is a common practice for bullfighters when in a pinch, this event was particularly important. The news report explains that the bullfighter had been gored the previous year. So, after almost getting gored again by the bull the bullfighter made a run for it. This time around the bullfighter thought it best to get out and stop fighting the bull—in effect ending his career as a bullfighter.

Matsumoto and Hwang (2010) explain that the context of a bull rushing toward an individual should elicit a host of evolutionary responses.  An emotion such as fear, manifesting itself as the bullfighter running from the bull, is part of a set of responses that occur. The fact that bullfighters train to control their fear and fight the bull, the authors argue, is part of an adaptive “open system” of emotional appraisal. Thus, making bullfighting possible as a counter-evolutionary practice. On the other hand, a bullfighter that takes the evolutionary route and runs is worthy of making the news.

See more: Fleeing Matador

Matsumoto, D. & Hwang, H.S. (2010). Judging faces in context.

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