Humans are considered to be very prosocial in comparison to other animals, and many experiments have confirmed this idea. However, most of these experiments have tested psychology students in rather artificial environments.
To gain insight in how prosocial humans act in an everyday situation where competition may also play a role, Massen and his team chose to test the willingness to share within a highly competitive field of work, namely that in which they work themselves: science.
In their experiment the researchers tricked almost 300 of their colleagues, from all over the globe, into participating in their study by sending them a request to share some of their work, while offering them nothing in return. The team was, however, not per se interested in that work, but just in whether they would receive a positive, a negative or no response at all to that request.
In general, the majority of the scientists that received a request reacted positively to it. Interestingly however, male scientists that were contacted by a male were more than 15% more likely to respond positively than males that were contacted by a female, females that were contacted by a male or females that were contacted by another female.
“Such gender differences may reflect the increased competition female scientists experience, old fashioned academic conventions with male exclusive networks, and/or our evolutionary history in which particularly male-male alliances were favoured”, says lead author Jorg Massen. “Future studies are needed to examine if this is a peculiarity of scientists, or whether this is a general pattern” he ends.