updated 5/11/2009 6:34:35 PM ET 2009-05-11T22:34:35

Apparently the bad boy doesn’t always get the girl.

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At least in a South American tribe with the highest known murder rate, it turns out that the most aggressive guys end up with fewer wives and children than milder men, according to a report in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers led by Stephen Beckerman of Pennsylvania State University studied the Waorani of Ecuador, who had their first peaceful contact with outsiders in 1958.

The Waorani had a reputation for killing outsiders and being equally aggressive among one another, being listed as having the highest homicide rate known to anthropology. Indeed, over five generations 42 percent of all Waorani population losses were caused by killing one another and another 8 percent were killed in conflicts with outsiders.

And it wasn’t just men. Murder accounted for 54 percent of male deaths but also 39 percent of women.

Brave researchers interviewed men in 23 settlements, talking to any man old enough to have experienced warfare before the pacification of recent years who was willing to be interviewed about their lives and families.

They found that more aggressive men do not acquire more wives than other men, do not have more children and their wives and children do not survive longer. In fact, warlike men have fewer children who survive to reproductive age, they found.

That’s just the opposite of an earlier study of the also warlike Yanomamo of Venezuela, where men who participated in more killings were found to have more wives.

So why the difference?

Violence in both groups largely turns around revenge, but the researchers found that the Yanomamo battle until there has been a rough balance in the number of deaths on each side, and then have peaceful interludes between warfare cycles. During the “rest” periods, which can last several years, Yanomamo warriors can gain wives and father children.

The Waorani, on the other hand, do not have peaceful respites and will even initiate an action based on something that occurred in their grandparent’s generation. Their goal isn’t a balance with opponents but rather to eliminate the other side.

“If any homicide failed to be avenged promptly, it only meant that the aggrieved party was too young, too frightened or too weak to respond, or that it believed it was tactically advantageous to wait until the enemies had let down their guard,” the researchers report.

The National Science Foundation supported the research.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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