The “Male Warrior Effect”

by F.

This one is going to get a lot of press, I predict (and if I’m wrong, of course, I’ll find a way to explain away my error). According to British researchers, we band together in the face of a common enemy. (And if there is no enemy, of course, just invent one.) While this is common sense, the BBC reports on some research demonstrating this in the lab:

Some 300 participants in the games were each initially paid three pounds and divided into groups of six.

They could then choose whether to keep the money, or invest it in a group fund.

They were told that the group fund would later be doubled and divided equally amongst all group members.

The strategy that would make the most money in many situations would involve holding onto your own money, and hoping that others invested in the fund.

The researchers therefore used the amount of money that an individual gave to the fund as a measure of altruism, or kindness to other people.

The scientists found that when people thought that their group was competing against outsiders from other universities, the group dynamic became different to when everyone was competing for themselves.

The men in each group became less self-orientated, and were more altruistic than before, approximately doubling their donations.

Note that the “altruism” here was to the subjects’ own group. Again, if you’ve ever been part of an institution, you know how much time is spent creating an enemy (which generally needs to be personified somehow) and then bonding by disparaging that enemy (“We’re gonna crush Google!” “I hate Bill Gates!”). It keeps the males from tearing each other to shreds. I doubt, though, that this is a particularly male thing: I’d like to see the study run with women. Some research suggests women are just as violent as men, just not physically so.

I wonder what facts about institutional or group psychology weren’t described or at least suggested by Orwell? His observations seem more acute the longer I live.

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