Women much more likely than men to value the life of their child over the life of their partner

In a life-or-death situation, most people say they would prefer to save their child’s life rather than their partner. That’s according to new research published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.

“My interest on this topic came completely at random, while reading years ago the novel Immortality by famous Czech writer Milan Kundera,” said study author Carlos Hernández Blasi of Jaume I University.

“There one of his characters suggests that, for women, maternal love is greater than conjugal love. I found this proposal thought provoking from an evolutionary perspective, and wondered how test it empirically, as well as what would happen with men.”

The researchers surveyed 197 college students regarding hypothetical life-or-death situations, in which they could either save the life of their child or the life of their partner — but not both.

Though most men and women said they would rather save their offspring than their mate, there were some gender differences. Significantly more men than women choose their partner over their offspring.

The findings indicate that “the Kundera Hypothesis is correct: given a critical situation (e.g., an hypothetical life-or-death situation) where it is necessary to make a decision between saving their child or saving their mate, a vast majority of women (and most of men) state they would save their child,” Blasi told PsyPost. “However, surprisingly enough, about 18% of men make the decision to save their mate.”

The study provides some preliminary evidence for the hypothesis. But — like all research — it includes some caveats.

“Although the phenomena we have identified is indeed very interesting, and we have some potential good explanations for it, it is still too soon to fully understand it. For example, most of subjects in our study were young (college students), and had no experience as mothers/fathers,” Blasi explained.

“In addition, the situation we presented was hypothetical, not real. What would happen, for instance, with older subjects that were mothers/fathers in a real life-or-death situation? Would 18% of men still decide to save their mate instead of their child?”

“We think that this and other studies show that adopting an evolutionary perspective to look at human behavior and its development can be very insightful to understand better human nature. It is also a fruitful source of hypotheses, empirical designs, and innovative interpretations about behavior,” Blasi added.

The study, “Testing the Kundera Hypothesis: Does Every Woman (But Not Every Man) Prefer Her Child to Her Mate?” was authoerd by Carlos Hernández Blasi and Laura Mondéjar.