A series of studies has indicated that men are more likely than women to cut moral corners when faced with a competitive scenario in which failure could diminish their sense of masculinity.
The studies showed that patterns of male dishonesty could be correlated with socio-cultural contexts in which they are motivated to defend their masculinity.
In an article for Scientific American, Cindi May, Professor of Psychology at the College of Charleston, reviewed a body of research that demonstrate that men have lower moral standards than women.
Studies showed males are more likely to minimise the consequences of moral misconduct, adopt ethically questionable tactics, and lie bigger and more often.
The pattern, Professor May noted, is most pronounced in areas where success has been viewed as a sign of male vigour and competence, and where loss signifies weakness, impotence or cowardice.
“When men must use strategy or cunning to prove or defend their masculinity, they are willing to compromise moral standards to assert dominance,” the Daily Mail quoted her as saying.
Pointing to a series of recent studies by Laura Kray of University of California, Berkely and Michael Haselhuhn of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Professor May argued that the root of the pattern might be socio-cultural.
Kray and Haselhuhn’s work suggests that losing battles - especially in areas that are highly competitive and male oriented - presents a threat to masculinity.
“Apparently manhood is relatively fragile and precarious, and when it is challenged, men tend to become more aggressive and defensive,” said Professor May.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted several experiments comparing not only the kinds of moral decisions men and women made, but also the personal and contextual factors influencing them.
Finally, Professor May highlighted a study by Robert J. Robinson, from Harvard Business School, Roy J. Lewicki, from Ohio State University, and Eileen M. Donahue, of Wellesley College, which assessed individuals’ willingness to violate their ethical principles in a range of negotiation scenarios.
This paper also found that men were more accepting than women of devious tactics like making false promises, misrepresenting information, and sabotaging their opponents. The study found that this was especially true for men who believed that negotiation prowess was an innate and integral part of their masculine nature.
Despite the damning conclusions drawn by the various findings, Professor May sound a note of caution, asking readers to consider that all the investigations used competitive negotiation scenarios, where failure is associated with ‘diminished financial status, threat to professional rank, and - at least to some - weakness’.
In scenarios, which challenge traditional ideas of feminine competency and identity, it’s possible that women might become similarly morally vulnerable.
Nonetheless, she added, ‘these findings suggest that if ethical standards are a significant factor in your choice of financial advisors or real estate agents, it may be safer to go with Bernadette than with Bernie.’