Men and women cooperate equally for the common good

September 22, 2011

Stereotypes suggest women are more cooperative than men, but an analysis of 50 years of research shows that men are equally cooperative, particularly in situations involving a dilemma that pits the interests of an individual against the interests of a group.

Additionally, men cooperate better with other men than cooperate with each other, according to the research, published online by the in . Women tend to cooperate more than men when interacting with the opposite-sex, the analysis found.

The researchers conducted a quantitative review of 272 studies comprising 31,642 in 18 countries. Most of the studies were conducted in the United States, the Netherlands, England and Japan. The articles were written in English and had to contain at least one social dilemma. Social dilemma experiments involve two or more people who must choose between a good outcome for themselves or a good outcome for a group. If everyone chooses selfishly, everyone in the group ends up worse off than if each person had acted in the interest of the group.

While there was no statistical difference between the when it came to cooperating when faced with a social dilemma, when the researchers drilled down they did find some differences. Specifically, women were more cooperative than men in mixed-sex studies and men became more cooperative than women in same-sex studies and when the social dilemma was repeated.

The "prisoner's dilemma" was the most commonly used experiment in this meta-analysis. In this interaction, a pair of people must decide whether to cooperate or defect. If they both cooperate, each person receives a modest amount of money, such as $10. However, if only one person cooperates, then the defecting participant receives more money, such as $40, while the cooperating person receives nothing. If both people decide to defect, they would each receive a small amount – say, $2.

"It is a social dilemma because each individual gains more by defecting regardless of what the other person does, but they will both be better off if they both cooperate," said the study's lead author, Daniel Balliet, Ph.D, of the VU University Amsterdam.

Even though most of these experiments were conducted in laboratories, social dilemma experiments have been shown to predict cooperation outside the laboratory very well. The authors used socio-cultural and evolutionary perspectives to explain some of the findings, particularly why men were found to be more cooperative than women during same-sex interactions.

"The argument is that throughout human evolutionary history, male coalitions have been an effective strategy for men to acquire resources, such as food and property," said Balliet. "Both hunting and warfare are social dilemmas in that they firmly pit individual and group interests against each other. Yet, if everyone acts upon their immediate self-interest, then no food will be provided, and wars will be lost. To overcome such social dilemmas requires strategies to cooperate with each other."

Evolutionary theory may also explain why women are less cooperative with other women when faced with a , according to Balliet. "Ancestral women usually migrated between groups and they would have been interacting mostly with women who tended not to be relatives, and many were co-wives," he said. "Social dynamics among women would have been rife with sexual competition."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2011
Cooperation is pure Communism. All human interaction should be dictated by free market principles in which the most powerful dictates to the inferior what will they will get.

A dictatorship organized around free market principles represents absolute and perfect freedom by definition.
krundoloss
not rated yet Sep 22, 2011
I agree with this article, with a great example being the TV Show "The Apprentice". Whenever the men and women were in same-sex groups, the men lacked inspiration and creativity while the women bickered endlessly. Once the groups were made of men and women, the bickering stopped, the men gained creative insight and the productivity went up dramatically. Point being - men and women compliment each other and work well together, by design. Women are catty when in groups because they have had to compete throughout history to get the most desirable mate. Its in our nature.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.