Women are often thought of as the obliging sex, but new findings based on 50 years of research suggest men are just as cooperative.
Men are particularly cooperative in situations involving a dilemma that pits the interests of an individual against the interests of a group, the study shows. [Read: Negative Stereotypes Have a Lasting Effect]
Scientists in Amsterdam analyzed 272 studies that involved a total of 31,642 participants in 18 countries, with most of the studies conducted in the United States, the Netherlands, England and Japan.
To be included in the analysis, a study had to involve at least one social dilemma in which two or more people were asked to choose between a good outcome for themselves and a good outcome for a group. Based on the setup of the experiments, if every participant chose selfishly, everyone in the group would end up worse off than if each person had acted in the interest of the group.
The findings showed no statistical difference between men and women when it came to cooperating during a social dilemma.
Outside of group scenarios, the researchers noted that some differences between the sexes surfaced. Men were found to be more cooperative with other men than women were during same-sex interactions. When interacting with the opposite sex, women were more cooperative than men, the analysis found.
The difference between men and women in same-sex interactions may have roots in evolution, the researchers said.
"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," study researcher Daniel Balliet of the VU University Amsterdam said in a statement. "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."
Evolutionarily, that wasn't the case for women. "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."
The study was recently published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.