Sacrificing men to save women: Reproductive goals influence men’s moral decisions

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Previous research has shown that men are more likely to make utilitarian decisions than women, in the context of someone dying to save several lives. However, a recent study showed that men were more likely to make anti-utilitarian decisions if the person they were saving had greater reproductive value to them than those he sacrificed. Sexual rivals and women past reproductive age hold no reproductive value to men.

Researchers found evidence that men would choose to save the life of one possible reproductive partner rather than three people with no reproductive value, in a study published in Evolutionary Psychological Science. Consequently, scientists found that women would more consistently make utilitarian decisions to save the many over the one.

Scientists asked a question to their participants: “Given the choice, would you decide to cause the death of three members of your own sex, or to cause the death of one member of the opposite sex?” This question was asked in a variety of ways, through the use of four different scenarios — large city with a bank robbery, rural community running out of medicine, spaceship and oxygen consumption, and a remote island desperately needing food. However, researchers did not give the reverse scenario to the participants (cause the death of one member of your own sex or cause the deaths of three members of the opposite sex).

Sexual orientation was noted for only one scenario, which was the third study concerning the spaceship. Only homosexuals and heterosexuals were included in the results; those who identified as bisexual were excluded from the study.

About one third of women were willing to cause the death of three women rather than one man. For females, the younger participants were more likely to make anti-utilitarian decisions, which could be influenced by social norms.

“Although we observed a large and robust difference between the responses of men and women, the proportion of women making the hypothetical choice to kill three women rather than one man remained puzzlingly high, at about one third,” the researchers noted.

Age had no distinguishable effect on male participants’ decisions. Men were influenced by sexual competition and the age of the female to possibly be saved. Also, homosexual men were less likely to eliminate men, which supports the theory of sexual selection being an important influence on anti-utilitarian male decision making.

Researchers believe that this new information shows the “implicit value that male and female decision-makers put on male and female lives, in contexts going from healthcare to warfare.” The conclusion of this study is that male moral choices may reflect sexual selection and competition.

The researchers noted that social norms could influence men’s decisions.

“As captured by the ‘women and children first’ rule of escape, men may be socially expected to give priority to saving the life of women,” they noted.

However, that social norm fails to explain why men were no longer willing to sacrifice other men to save women past reproductive age.

“It is difficult to explain why a norm of chivalry would no longer apply to a woman older than 50, without appealing to additional ad hoc norms. An evolutionary account, though, easily explains why the life of a woman past her fertile years might be less of a priority for male participants,” they said.



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64 Comments

  1. WoobieTuesday on

    “Chivalry” is within the realm of the patriarchy. It seems obvious that these men are only interested in saving women of reproductive age because on some primordial, subconscious level they imagine there is potentially something in it for them: i.e., sex & progeny.

    • William Pedersen on

      Indeed. Although what you call patriarchy is actually just biology, and most definitely not a “social construction”.
      The only reason we don’t see this behavior from women is because womens reproductive success is not capped by access to mating opportunities. There simply is no incentive for women to behave like this, but there certainly is for men.

        • StephanieJCW on

          People don’t want to accept that the parameters of matriarchy / patriarchy are socially constructed because they do not wish to examine their own biases.

          • WoobieTuesday on

            I absolutely agree. To admit that patriarchy is a construct would invalidate the biological determinant argument which posits that monogamy among men is irrational because of the fallacy which says that they have a subconscious primordial urge programmed into the hippocampus to spread their seed far and wide. The flip side to the biological argument which William offers supposes that monogamy is designed for women who need the long term protection of a spouse to raise up progeny. In other words, the biological argument would allow men to have their cake and eat it, too. It’s very convenient. But the vast majority of peer reviewed and accepted scientific study negates the biological argument in favor of the sociological argument that patriarchy and matriarchy are indeed social constructs.

          • StephanieJCW on

            Of course the biological argument is convenient for men. That’s why so many of them push it so hard! They use it to justify both their own infidelity and why women, on the other hand should remain and be expected to remain monogamous (never mind that other literature challenges the nature of woman’s biological tendency to monogamy : see Sex at Dawn). Having their cake and eating it too.

          • William Pedersen on

            No. The scientific evidence does not support social constructionism. Biology, neuroscience, linguistics and evolutionary psychology all show that this model is false.

          • WoobieTuesday on

            Because you said so? Sorry, buddy. You’re going to have to do better at proving your “argument”. Without any emperical foundation for tour claim, you’re just farting in the wind. Ive provided you with numerous citations to evidence which say you’re full of hot air. You could refute those citations with some actual, bonafide science, were your “argument” not a complete crock. But you’ll have to forgive me for refusing to take your word for it simply because you’re a male used to getting your way.

          • William Pedersen on

            I posted a link the a Steven Pinker debate where he thoroughly presents the metastudies that disprove the standard social science model. If you want some even more thorough work, read The Blank Slate by Pinker.

      • StephanieJCW on

        Women’s reproductive success IS capped by access to mating opportunities. It’s why you have growing numbers of women leaving their fertile years without ever having children.

        • William Pedersen on

          Not to the extent mens success is capped by access to mating opportunities.

          The way sexual reproduction works, in fact why it works, is the relative difference in value between sperm and eggs. This imbalance leads to a phenomenon called sexual selection, where males will compete for access to females, and females will select which males to mate with. We see this in a vast majority of sexually reproducing species, and the sexual dysmorphia in humans is conclusive proof that this is the case for humans too ( if simple observing our species does not convince you )

          • StephanieJCW on

            Bollox. Plenty of unsuccessful men have children. In fact the lower down the class sets you go, the more children people are having. Increasing numbers of women are leaving their reproductive years without having children demonstrating that women’s access to mating opportunities is just as capped (if not more so.) Men and women both have to compete equally in the dating pool. It’s no easier for women though misogynists like to think so.

            But nice of you to push the “all women are gold diggers” stereotype again.

          • William Pedersen on

            Then how do you explain that the sexual dysmorphia in humans is consistant with species where males compete for females?

            Are you denying that women are more selective then men when choosing to have sex?

          • StephanieJCW on

            Women equally compete for males. It just occurs in a different fashion. Men and women are equally selective just that for some reason the women men tend to reject (too fat, too old) don’t form part of the discussion. Men are allowed to turn down woman (and do, frequently.) We also live in a society that she’s woman for expressing their sexuality so some will feel the need to turn away from sexual opportunities.

            But you are using a very debased version of “mating opportunities.” Which is more than merely sex. Women don’t have more mating opportunities than men. If they did the number of women leaving their fertile years without having children would be minuscule / non existent.

            But this just a common MRA whine that the dating world is so much harder on men. It isn’t.

          • William Pedersen on

            You didnt answer my question. How do you explain that the sexual dysmorphia in humans is consistant with species where males compete for females?

          • StephanieJCW on

            I did answer your question – you just didn’t like the response. Both men and women compete for partners (one presumes that is what you mean by “dysmorphia” typically used with describing feelings towards the body.) if you mean there is an imbalance of sexual partners once again that favours men. That they compete in different ways does not mean men have fewer mating opportunities than women. That just simply isn’t true, especially when human mating is typically done in pair bonding.

          • William Pedersen on

            Sexual dimorphism is the physical differences between males and females. In species where males conpete for females, the differences will be greater. A result of sexual selection. If humans are a species where males do not conpete for females, why are males 10% larger than females on avarage?

          • StephanieJCW on

            Because over time that is the way physically thy have evolved.
            What does that have to do with access to mating opportunities (identical to both) and that both men and women must compete for mating opportunities?

            That they must do so in different ways does not change that they both compete equally. Average size differences have nothing to do with mating competition. You have a strange view of modern humanity. You do realise that the “mating game” as you may see it is played out differently amongst intelligent humans and other animals in the animal kingdom?

          • William Pedersen on

            The correlation between size differences and sexual selection is well documented. And no, it isnt that different at all. Males court females, just as the vast majority of sexually reproducing species.

          • WoobieTuesday on

            If ‘ol William was really concerned with his capped access to mating opoortunities, he would be working with feminists to dissolve the myths intendedant to patriarchy which purport to identify the characteristics of gendeted male AND female stereotyoes which determine to great extent which humans are deemed by society as worthy mating partners.

          • WoobieTuesday on

            Yep!! StephanieJCW nailed it. William gave himself away the second he uttered the line, “…mens success is capped by access to mating opportunities.”

          • That’s so false. Every single female’s reproductive capability is capped, 100% of the time, by aging. You cannot say the same about men, even if SOME men, SOME of the time are unable to find a mate.

            I do believe though, we are getting to the root of your bias.

          • William Pedersen on

            The root of my bias. That’s cute. Yes, I am biased towards actual hard science.

            Yes, female reproductive success is capped by age, while mens’ are not. This raises the question; given mens’ and womens’ different reproductive parameters, that we reproduce very differently, why wouldn’t you expect different behaviors? Why do these so-called socially constructed behaviors so closely follow what we would expect them to be from an evolutionary perspective? Coincidence?

            Men are biologically capable of siring literally thousands of offspring, whereas women can produce far less. Since every biological organism is optimized to reproduce as effeciently as possible, it follows that the sexes will behave differently. This is true for the vast majority of sexually reproducing species, and we have NO REASON to think it’s any different for humans.

            This is basic biology, an actual science with hard scientific evidence to back it up, whereas your feminist theory is speculation and pseudo-science, with no valid scientific evidence to back it up.

          • O, that’s easy dear Billy! Because man, in his infinite wisdom, developed religion (yet another social construct) to explain the inexplicable. Man also developed purity myths, principles and rituals–one of them became quite popular in the male dominated patriarchy–you may have heard of it. It’s called “marriage”. Nobody said the patriarchy was very bright.

  2. WoobieTuesday on

    What is “matriarchy?” Please.

    Biological versus social theories, per Wiki (cited in the original):

    “As a common standard of differentiation between genders, advocates for a patriarchal society[who?] like to focus on the influences that hormones have over biological systems. Hormones have been declared as the “key to the sexual universe” because they are present in all animals and are the driving force in two critical developmental stages: sex-determinism in the fetus, and puberty in the teenage individual.[38] Playing a critical role in the development of the brain and behavior, testosterone and estrogen have been labeled the “male-hormone” and “female-hormone” respectively as a result of the impact they have when masculinizing or feminizing an individual.

    • WoobieTuesday on

      (^^^ Cont’d)

      “Most sociologists reject predominantly biological explanations of patriarchy and contend that social and cultural conditioning are primarily responsible for establishing male and female gender roles.[39][40] According to standard sociological theory, patriarchy is the result of sociological constructions that are passed down from generation to generation.[39] These constructions are most pronounced in societies with traditional cultures and less economic development.[41] Even in modern, developed societies, however, gender messages conveyed by family, mass media, and other institutions largely favor males having a dominant status.[40]”

      • WoobieTuesday on

        (^^^ Cont’d)

        “Biologist Richard Lewontin asserts that patriarchy persists through social and political reasons, rather than purely scientific reasons. In The Determined Patriarchy, Lewontin reflects feminist concerns for the future of patriarchy and how to rid society of it by uprooting the source. Some opponents of feminism have argued that patriarchy has its origin in biological factors. This is called biological determinism, which looks at humanity from a strictly biological point of view. Thus, the evolution of science in a patriarchal society’s focus begins with man and woman. The male testosterone hormone is, for instance, known to greatly enhance risk taking behaviour; which can generate increased status in groups if successful (balanced with an equal increase in number of failures, with potential losses of status or death as result). The potential magnitude, frequency and longevity of the increased status from a hormonally driven risk-taking success depends on opportunities, which increases rapidly with societal complexity. A hypothetical patriarchal culture based primarily on a hormonally-driven increased rate of male successes, thus require a certain critical level of societal evolution before it could evolve. Other proponents of this theory posit that because of a woman’s biology, she is more fit to perform roles such as anonymous child-rearing at home, rather than high-profile decisionmaking roles, such as leaders in battles. Through this simple basis, “the existence of a sexual division of labor in primitive societies is a starting point as much for purely social accounts of the origins of patriarchy as for biological”.[38]:157 Hence, the rise of patriarchy is recognized through this apparent “sexual division.”[38] Although patriarchy exists within the scientific atmosphere, “the period over which women would have been at a physiological disadvantage in participation in hunting through being at a late stage pregnancy or early stage of child-rearing would have been small”,[38]:157 during the time of the nomads, patriarchy still grew with power. Lewontin and others argue that such biological determinism unjustly limits women. In his study, he states women behave a certain way not because they are biologically inclined to, but rather because they are judged by “how well they conform to the stereotypical local image of femininity”. [38]:137 Feminists believe that people have gendered biases, which are perpetuated and enforced across generations by those who benefit from them.[38] For instance, it has historically been claimed that women cannot make rational decisions during their menopausal periods. This claim cloaks the fact that men also have periods of time where they can be aggressive and irrational; furthermore, unrelated effects of aging and similar medical problems are often blamed on menopause, amplifying its reputation.[42] These biological traits and others specific to women, such as their ability to get pregnant, are often used against them as an attribute of weakness.[38][42]”

        • WoobieTuesday on

          (^^^ Cont’d)

          “The idea that patriarchy is natural has, however, come under attack from many sociologists, explaining that patriarchy evolved due to historical, rather than biological, conditions. In technologically simple societies, men’s greater physical strength and women’s common experience of pregnancy combined together to sustain patriarchy.[38] Gradually, technological advances, especially industrial machinery, diminished the primacy of physical strength in everyday life. Similarly, contraception has given women control over their reproductive cycle.”

          • William Pedersen on

            Would have been a lot simpler to just post the link would it not? It doesnt even answer my question. Ill refer you again to the steven pinker debate. If you have a similar source with the same standards of evidence, that is several meta studies, please post it.

            The opinions of ideological fanatics does not interest me. Im interested in science and facts. If you have any that support your position im all ears. If not, well that says something about the lacking scientific support for your position.

          • WoobieTuesday on

            There are plenty of facts in the material I quoted and I told you that the citations were in the original. You can look them up. They ARE mainstream standards. Steven Pinker, however, is not. Steven Pinker is the ideologue whom you claim to disdain. He is a fellow of the Johnstone Family Christian Fellowship. No wonder you buy this b.s. biological determinism argument which purports to support monogamy among women and “spreading of the seed” among men. Disgusting.

          • WoobieTuesday on

            Does it bother you that you can’t dictate how I post? What’s funny is that what I posted is cited throughout in the original. I’m not surprised you didn’t take the time to read the myriad citations. Had you done so, you likely would not have liked the outcome, given that It is THE standard of scientific thought in answer to the question whether patriarchy is a social construct or a biological function.

            What’s even more hilarious is that you cite Pinker as the be-all-end-all voice of “reason” when Pinker is a Fellow of the Johnstone Family Fellowship–a Christian organization which bases its fanatical doctrines on anything BUT reason or science, and awards its fellowships to those willing to argue their Christian ideologies.

            Your argument is laughable, at best.

          • William Pedersen on

            Ah yes. Pinker, a Harvard professor of psychology, is biased whereas the feminist wp editors are completely neutral and not ideologically biased at all.

            There isnt a single piece of hard evidence in that article to support your argument. Its also strange to claim that a christian institution has a pro-evolution ideological bias. That’s a first.

            Im not talking about patriarchy. Im talking about the findings these researchers made. It is certainly no social construct, as social constructionism is false. Its a Disproved and debunked sociological theory. Read the blank slate for a more thorough explanation.

          • StephanieJCW on

            Confirmation bias is strong with you. There are a whole host of studies in opposition to Pinker which you have been directed to you have selectively rejected.

            And not even Pinker cleaves to biological determinism to the extent you think he does.

          • William Pedersen on

            Social constructionism and the standard social science model holds that humans are blank slates and biology plays no part. I am not denying the influence of culture, but social constructionism and the standard social science model does deny the influence of biology.

          • StephanieJCW on

            Extremists may deny any biological influence. Nobody here has. What they challenge is your biological determinist view and bizarre assertion that patriarchy is biological instead of socially constructed. If it were the former how does the strength of the patriarchy differ from culture to culture and over time?

          • William Pedersen on

            You are denying biology when you claim thst men and women compete equally for mating opportunities

          • WoobieTuesday on

            If what you’re saying here were even the least bit true, you could’ve easily explained matriarchal or matrilineal societies. But you couldn’t. You just denied its historical existence. That’s very telling.

          • William Pedersen on

            You never gave me a definition of “matriarchal” ( or “matrilineal” for that matter ).

          • William Pedersen on

            Tell me what they are, and give me an example. Then ill tell you if they exist or not.

          • Research is research. If you can research one topic you can research another. There is nothing “feminist” about matriarchal / matrilineal societies. Your refusal to research them just as any other topic because you believe (without actually studying them) that they are “feminist” proves your confirmation bias. If you choose to remain willfully ignorant, it’s your prerogative. But you cannot claim such societies do not exist simply because you refuse to look. You sound like a three year old covering his eyes and believing nothing is there.

          • William Pedersen on

            Well, no. See, there’s this thing called the philosophic burden of evidence. That means that when you make a claim in a debate, you have an obligation to provide proof of your claim.

            Telling your opponent to “do your own research” is in fact attempting to shift the burden onto your opponent, that I prove a negative, which is is unreasonable.

          • Fortunately, this is a comment thread–not a debate. There are no judges here t admonish me for telling you to do the research you’ve already declined to do. It’s also fortunate that this is the real world and not your male dominated fantasy, because that means I don’t have to bow to your ridiculous demands. You can F yourself (since it appears nobody else is willing to do it). :0]

          • William Pedersen on

            My request that you provide evidence to support your claim, is a ridiculous demand motivated by my male dominated fantasy.

            Sorry sweetheart, but what we are doing here is by definition a debate, and you just lost by refusing to provide evidence that backs up your claim, and instead use an ad-hominem argument.
            As a feminist, you must be used to losing debates by now so I’m surprised it makes you so mad 🙂

          • If declaring yourself a winner is what gets your rocks off, MGTOW, so be it. We both know your refusal to look up a term because you have deemed it ‘feministy’ is patently pathetic. You are #Winning like Charlie Sheen, #Loser.

          • William Pedersen on

            Poor me? On the contrary. I don’t need, want, or demand special privileges because of my gender alone, like some people do 🙂

            So let me give you a challenge; can you explain how feminists such as yourself can sexually harass people online, like you did previously in our discussion, and yet at the same time whine in front of the UN about how they are “cyber violence survivors”?

            Isn’t that a little hypocritical? Can you explain that without invoking cultural relativism?

          • WoobieTuesday on

            We’ve been talking about latriarchy as a social construct v. biological determinant since I posted the first comment and you refuted it. If you want to admit you’re wrong about that and then change tacs, fine. But to deny you were talking about patriarchy as social construct or biology is just silly when the comments are all here in black and white & sequential order.

          • William Pedersen on

            Maybe you’ve been talking about “patriarchy”. I’m not interested in talking about “patriarchy”. Why would you think that? We’re obviously discussing the article.

    • William Pedersen on

      How does that relate to gender being a social construct? Do you disagree with this assessment of how hormones influence behavior?

      • WoobieTuesday on

        Whoa, I never made the claim that “gender” is a social construct. “Gender” is certainly NOT a social construct, though many would like to claim it is. Gender is highly individualized and many believe it to be a fluid personal choice. My claim, which you refuted, was that patriarchy and/or matriarchy are social constructs. You claimed that patriarchy is not a social construct and is in fact, biological.

      • StephanieJCW on

        Gender parameters are socially constructed. As evidenced by the fact that there are cultures that have more than two genders. Not possible if gender parameters were rigidly biological determined. The reality is people exist along a spectrum of gender stereotypes behaviour. Where the lines are drawn between one gender and another are socially driven.

        • William Pedersen on

          No they arent. Pinker has documented that there are many sex differences that exist in all cultures. Men take more risks ans are more interested in things vs people for example.

          • StephanieJCW on

            You are confusing sex and gender. Where the gender parameters are drawn is socially driven. And there most certainly are cultures with more than two genders! (Genders, NOT sexes.)

          • William Pedersen on

            Nope. Some people suffer from defects that affect their sexuality. I suffer from some defects myself, like allergies and color blindness. My gender is no more socially determined than my allergies.

  3. StephanieJCW on

    Why are women criticised for this, yet men not criticised for favouring women with youth and beauty over and above any other quality?

    • WoobieTuesday on

      Likely because the gold digger stereotyoe gives them something to put on the MRA / MGTOW / Red Pill meeting agendas? Gotta “justify the ‘movement’!”