If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then we’d much rather set up financial shop on Venus, thank you very much. Research has long found that women tend to be more altruistic and generous than men. But until recently, the reason was rather unclear.
Now a new study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, shows that the female brain actually responds differently to generous decision-making than the male brain does.
Researchers asked 40 adults to take part in brain-imaging experiments where they had to make decisions about sharing money with others or keeping it for themselves. What they found was that prosocial (i.e., generous) behavior triggered a stronger reward signal for women than it did for men. Interestingly, male reward systems responded more strongly to selfish behavior.
Does this mean that women are born more giving than men? Not so, say researchers.
Lead author of the study Alexander Soutschek, Ph.D., professor of economics at the University of Zurich, explained that the reward systems in our brain are strongly tied to learning. Previous studies have shown that girls tend to be rewarded with praise for prosocial behavior more so than boys. Translation? By treating boys and girls differently from a young age, girls come to expect rewards for generous behavior.
“These stereotypes might function as self-fulfilling prophecies and produce the gender differences they claim to describe,” said Soutschek. “The differences in the brain might be the product of the internalization of these cultural expectations.”
Yikes. How about we start teaching both girls and boys to be a little kinder? Yes, please.