A team of psychology researchers have found that we are far more likely to sacrifice a man over a woman when it comes to saving lives of those around us.
Oriel FeldmanHall, the lead author of a recent study says this year’s data indicates that we believe the welfare of women to be more preserved over men. Research was conducted at Cambridge University’s Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and Columbia University and was published in full in Social Psychological and Personality Science journal.
In the first experiment, study subjects were read one of three versions of a “Trolley Dilemma”, which is commonly used in psychology studies and similar to the “Lifeboat Question” in which you can only save three out of five people. In the trolley scenario, subjects read one version of the problem where a man, woman and gender-neutral person were described as being on the bridge. The participants of the study were asked how willing they were to push each person onto the path of the oncoming trolley in order to save the other people stationed further down the track. Results show that both females and males are more likely to push the male bystander or one of unknown gender than they are to push a female.
In the second experiment, a group of new subjects were given £20 and told that any money that remained by the end of the experiment would be multiplied by 10, with a maximum end cash amount of £200. There was, of course, a catch. In the experiment, subjects interacted with other people. The subjects were told that if they chose to keep their money, the people they spoke with would be electrically shocked. If they chose to give their money away, no shocks would occur.
Just like in the first experiment, women were much less likely than men to be shocked. This suggests that there is an aversion to hurting women, even when someone’s financial success is on the line. Both male and female subjects were less likely to shock women than they were men. Women were especially less than willing to shock other women.
In a third experiment, a survey of 350 individuals was conducted. Subjects were asked a number of questions relevant to the focus of the study. Researchers were trying to understand the thought process that may explain the behaviors displayed within the first two experiments. Samples questions included “On a sinking ship, whom should you save first? Men, women, or no order”, “According to social norms, how morally acceptable is it to harm (men/women) for money?” and “According to social norms, how well do (men/women) tolerate pain?”
As a whole, the answers given by both men and women suggested that social norms account for much more violent or harmful behavior to males than to females, women tolerate pain less than men do and that it is not acceptable to harm women for personal gains. As a whole, society seems to promote chivalrous behavior. The particular perspectives are not linked to emotions, as subjects during the study seemed to find harming both men and women to be equally emotionally wrong.
Co-author Dean Mobbs, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University says there is in fact a gender bias in these particular matters. Society seems to believe that harming women is far more unacceptable morally than harming men is. The team plans to continue studies in order to get a deeper and more complete answer to exactly why people feel these particular ways. A lot of it is believed to be probably due to social norms that have been passed down from previous generations.