Knee-jerk altruism

Women are more generous than men—if they’re in a hurry.

Gregory Nemec

Gregory Nemec

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Are people more altruistic when they act on instinct, or when they stop and think? To find out, researchers analyzed 22 experiments in which people were given real money and were given the chance to share it with a stranger.

The results were different for men and women. Multiple experiments found that when women relied on their intuition—that is, when they had to make the decision quickly—they were more likely to share the money. When women were told to deliberate, more decided to keep the money. Those women were more likely to self-identify with typically masculine traits, such as dominance and independence, than with typically feminine traits such as warmth and tenderness. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to keep the money for themselves, regardless of how much time they had to think or what traits they identified with.

David Rand, an associate professor of psychology, economics, and management at Yale, coauthored the analysis for the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. He suggests that the differences between men and women may be based on social pressure. “There are a lot of societal expectations that women will act in an altruistic way—and when they don’t, they receive backlash,” he says. “So it makes sense that women should internalize behaving altruistically as their default.”

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