Men cooperate better than women
It has been widely held that men are hugely competitive, so cooperation is least among them, while women have a tendency to nurture relationships with others, making them much more likely to cooperate with one another.
However, a new Harvard study differs from the stereotype.
In fact, within academic departments women of different social or professional "ranks" cooperate with each other less well than men do, according to Joyce Benenson, an Associate of Harvard's Human Evolutionary Biology Department and Professor of Psychology at Emmanuel College, Richard Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology and Henry Markovits, from the University of Quebec at Montreal, the study's co-authors.
With full professors of the same sex, they said, the study found men and women cooperated equally well.
"The question we wanted to examine was: Do men or women cooperate better with members of their own sex?" Wrangham said.
"The conventional wisdom is that women cooperate more easily, but when you look at how armies or sports teams function, there is evidence that men are better at cooperating in some ways. Because there is so much conventional wisdom and general impressions on these issues, I think it's helpful for this paper to focus on a very clear result, which has to do with the differences in cooperation when rank is involved," he said.
While the study focused on the world of higher education, Benenson explained that the notion of differences between how men and women cooperate was first planted during her work studying children.
"When I studied young children, I noticed that boys were typically interacting in groups, and girls tended to focus on one-on-one relationships," study's lead author, Benenson, who explored similar questions in her book Warriors and Worriers, said.
That's not to suggest women are inherently flawed when it comes to cooperation.
In fact, Benenson said, women are often thought of as being more egalitarian than men, "but there's a flip side no one thinks about, which is what happens when they're with someone who isn't the same rank?"
While their study offers evidence that women, in some situations, may not cooperate as well as men, Wrangham emphasized that a host of questions about why those differences exist are still to be answered.
The study is published in the journal Current Biology.
(Posted on 04-03-2014)