S u m m a r y :
The female brain reacts more strongly to prosocial behavior than the male brain, which makes women more generous and helpful than their male counterparts , says a new study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
Female Brains vs Male Brains
Women are usually more generous than men, a theory supported by a number of behavioural studies. What has remained unknown is the drive behind this difference—this is where the new research makes a difference. The findings show that the stronger response of women to prosocial behaviour is a reflection of what happens in a brain region associated with the assessment of rewards, explains a team of neuroscientists from the Department of Economics from the University of Zurich. The male brain is not like the female brain: its response to prosocial and selfish behaviour is very different from the latter’s.
Women Are More Generous, and Men, More Selfish
The team investigated the brain in reference to the type of decision-making that entails rewards. Their focus was on the striatum which is found in the middle of the brain, and known for its role in the evaluation of reward. The striatum was found to be more strongly activated in female brains during prosocial situations than during selfish decisions. On the other hand, the reward system embedded in male brains experienced a greater activation for selfish decisions.
Making Men Less Selfish & Women Less Generous
During a second phase of the experiments, the researchers disrupted the reward system in both male and female participants; this was achieved through medication. When the striatum was, thus, not functioning normally, women became more selfish while men grew more prosocial.
Implications for Further Brain Studies
Given that medication led to this surprising result, study author, Alexander Soutschek, explains that the processing of generosity is different in the two sexes at the pharmacological level as well. This has a number of implications for further brain studies, and Soutschek points out that gender differences need to be taken under greater consideration.
Biological Difference or Cultural Difference?
What do these findings mean? Are women, truly, biologically more prosocial than men? Is this an innate quality that females are endowed with? The authors warn against this black-and-white interpretation of the data. Soutschek cautions against concluding that the differences in brain responses are absolutely the result of evolution.
The real cause of women being more prosocial and men less so might be the result of conditioned behaviour, given that the reward and learning systems are intimately connected. According to Soutschek, previous research shows that girls are generally rewarded with words of praise when they are being prosocial: their reward system will, thus, learn to anticipate such reward for being generous, as opposed to being selfish. So, the gender differences seen in this study might be the result of different cultural expectations.