When it comes to talking about generalized characteristics associated with different genders, the conversation should always be accompanied by many, many grains of salt, and a whole lot of understanding that so much (if not all) of our understanding of gender is based on social constructs. That being said, people will always be fascinated by how men and women are different, and new research about this exact topic is both fascinating and, well, possibly not all that surprising. According to a new study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, women are easier to get along with than men overall, thanks to a key difference between men and women's brains.
Now, this isn't to say your dad isn't the sweetest, or that your boyfriend isn't constantly giving you more than your fair share of the blanket, because yes, men can absolutely be generous and lovely, too — sometimes (I kid, I kid). But this new study appears to explain why women are generally more giving and generous than men, and it all comes down to a neurological response. According to this research, women's brains actually find it more rewarding to engage in generous behavior than the brains of men.
Now, if you think this study stands alone behind that idea, previous research has already drawn some pretty similar conclusions. For instance, a study conducted by researchers from Arizona State University found that women are more likely to be prosocial, meaning their behavior is usually more positive, and more likely to promote healthy social interactions. Plus, a study done by researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK revealed that women are more likely to give to charity. So, yeah, there's kind of a trend here, right? But what explains that trend?
This new research set out to discover why, exactly, women seem to engage in this sharing behavior more often than men do.
Business Insider reports that in the study's experiments, female and male participants were asked to imagine 100 people, and assign them all different "social levels," so to speak, ranging from 1 (someone they consider their closest friend) to 100 (a total rando). The participants were then asked to choose whether or not they would share money with people at the following social levels: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. Or, would they choose to keep the cash for themselves?
During one of the experiments in the study, participants were given a drug called Amisulpride. According to Business Insider, "the researchers believed this drug would suppress how much value the subjects thought the rewards [associated with giving money or keeping money for themselves] had," and would thus establish a control group of sorts. In a different experiment in the study, participants weren't given this drug at all, allowing their brains' responses to rewards to be totally free and uninhibited.
So, when the researchers went back and analyzed their findings, they focused on a part of the participants' brains called the striatum which, Business Insider reports, "is active whenever a decision is made." In the experiment that didn't involve Amisulpride, the striatum was activated big-time in the brains of the female participants when they shared money, more-so than when they kept the money for themselves. The very opposite was true for male participants, according to the researchers' findings.
While the women's reward systems were lit up when sharing cash with others, the men's reward systems lit up when they kept the money for themselves.
And, as expected, in the experiment that involved the Amisulpride drug, the reward-related responses were reduced in both men and women, according to Business Insider.
Alexander Soutschek, a psychologist at the University of Zurich and lead author of the study, told Business Insider that the study was somewhat surprising, as he and his team didn't expect to see such drastic differences between men and women. He explained,
We expected to find the effect for women, because we knew from behavioural studies that women are often more prosocial then men.
We expected that the effect in men might be smaller than in women, but we did not expect that the effect was in the opposite direction.
It's important to note, though, that the researchers themselves aren't even really sure why these differences exist.
Soutsheck told Business Insider that while there are clearly many biological differences between men and women, it would be incorrect to assume that the differences in brain functioning that they found are "innate" or have "an evolutionary basis." Rather, he explained, these neural differences could be "the product of gender stereotypes in western societies." He added,
However, as I said, this just appears to be the best explanation for us, we cannot rule out the evolution hypothesis.
So, there you have it, folks. No one is totally sure why these differences exist, but there's no denying that they're there.
For now, perhaps men can maybe take this as a gentle, friendly cue to start reconsidering their sharing (or apparent lack thereof) habits. Just a thought, guys!