Are women more generous and less selfish than men? Scientists think so
According to new research, part of the brain in women showed a greater response when sharing money, while in men, the same structure showed more activity when they kept the cash for themselves.sex and relationships Updated: Oct 10, 2017 15:55 IST
Is the impulse to care for and attend to others simply a part of human species’ genetic make-up or is it influenced by gender? If yes, who are more selfish: Men or women?
According to scientists, gender plays a part in what we enjoy more, giving or receiving. Women seem to get more of a chemical reward for being generous than men do, reports The Guardian. A study published on Monday in Nature Human Behavior found that in women, part of the brain showed a greater response when sharing money, while in men, the same structure showed more activity when they kept the cash for themselves.
As Philippe Tobler, associate professor of neuroeconomics and social neuroscience at the University of Zurich, and co-author of the research, sees it, “women put more subjective value on prosocial behaviour, or voluntary behaviour intended to benefit another, and men find selfish behaviour more valuable.”
“However, it was unknown how this difference comes about at the level of the brain,” Tobler told CBS Philly . “But in both genders, the dopamine system encodes value.” By “encode,” he means the activity in our brain changes in proportion to the value we give social experiences.
In the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Tobler and colleagues from Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands searched for answers for why women and men are not equally selfish. They designed two studies to test whether dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in the brain’s reward system, is linked to different social behaviours in men and women. Dopamine is released during moments of pleasure, yet it also helps us process our values.
In the first experiment, 56 male and female participants made choices between sharing a financial reward with others or keeping the money for themselves.Given only a placebo before making decisions, women acted less selfishly than men, choosing to share their money with others.
In the second study, the team looked at data from 40 men and women who had undergone brain imaging while undertaking decisions on whether to share money, focussing on the activity of a value-processing region of the brain that relies on dopamine signalling. Compared with the males, the striatum, a critical component of the motor and reward systems, in females showed more activity when they made a prosocial decision.
CBS Philly reports that according to Anne Z Murphy, an associate professor of neuroscience at Georgia State University, other research has shown “that females are more prosocial. We find it more rewarding, and if you manipulate dopamine signalling in the brain, you can make females less prosocial and males less selfish.” Murphy was not involved in the study.
Still, she said, the study brings “greater awareness to the fact that there are brain differences in male and females.”
“It just shows, once again, that people can point to a biological basis for some of the characteristics that are prototypically male,” Murphy said. These traits would include selfishness, self-promotion, generally, a hard-driving profile.
Gender differences in the brain may not be due to structural differences - for example, variations in region size or shape based on sex, noted the researchers.
Gender differences in the brain could be functional. This would mean a flood of the very same neurotransmitter — dopamine - might cause a very different response in women than in men.
“It may be worth pointing out that the differences are likely to be learned,” Tobler said.
Though male and female tendencies may be learned, Murphy said, these behaviours are not acquired in a single lifetime.
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First Published: Oct 10, 2017 15:43 IST