Women’s brains reward friendly behaviour more than men’s

The long-standing debate over which sex is nicer may finally have been solved.

Researchers have found that the female brain rewards friendly and helpful behaviour more than selfish decisions.

The male mind on the other hand is more egocentric, encouraging narcissistic acts over selfless ones.

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Researchers have found that the female brain rewards friendly and helpful behaviour more than selfish decisions. The male mind on the other hand is more egocentric, rewarding narcissistic acts over selfless ones (stock image)

Researchers have found that the female brain rewards friendly and helpful behaviour more than selfish decisions. The male mind on the other hand is more egocentric, rewarding narcissistic acts over selfless ones (stock image)

Researchers have found that the female brain rewards friendly and helpful behaviour more than selfish decisions. The male mind on the other hand is more egocentric, rewarding narcissistic acts over selfless ones (stock image)

WHY THE DIFFERENCE?

While the differences in male and female brains could form at the biological level, they don’t necessarily have an evolutionary origin.

More likely, they are pushed onto us from birth as part of our cultural values, lead researcher Dr Alexander Soutschek said. 

‘Empirical studies show that girls are rewarded with praise for prosocial behaviour, implying that their reward systems learn to expect a reward for helping behaviour instead of selfish behaviour,’ he said.

‘With this in mind, the gender differences that we observed in our studies could best be attributed to the different cultural expectations placed on men and women.’

The researchers, from the University of Zurich, say this is likely the result of our cultural expectations of women to be more helpful than men.

The research shows for the first time that the brains of men and women respond differently to selfish and friendly, or ‘prosocial’, behaviour.

Previous studies have already shown that women typically share sums of money more generously than men.

Study lead author Dr Alexander Soutschek told MailOnline: ‘In the literature, there was already a lot of behavioural evidence that in many (though not all) situations women often act more prosocially then men.

‘But it remained unknown whether these differences in behaviour can be explained by differences in brain functioning.

‘Our study showed that these gender differences in altruism can be explained by differences of the reward system of the brain to selfish and shared rewards.’ 

In their study, the team looked at the areas of the brain that are active when charitable decisions are made in two groups – one of 27 men and one of 26 women.

This area, known as the striatum, is found in the middle of the brain, and is responsible for the assessment of reward, becoming active when a decision is made.

Subjects made decisions between a ‘selfish reward option’ in which only the subject obtained 10 Swiss francs (£7.75 or $10.20), and a ‘prosocial reward option’ in which both the subject and another person receive 7.50 Swiss francs (£5.80 or $7.65).

The research shows for the first time that the brains of men and women respond differently to selfish and helpful, or 'prosocial', behaviour (stock image)

The research shows for the first time that the brains of men and women respond differently to selfish and helpful, or 'prosocial', behaviour (stock image)

The research shows for the first time that the brains of men and women respond differently to selfish and helpful, or ‘prosocial’, behaviour (stock image)

The study showed that the striatum was more strongly activated in female brains during prosocial decisions than during selfish decisions.

By contrast, selfish decisions led to a stronger activation of the reward system in male brains.

In a second experiment, the reward system was disrupted by administering medication to the participants.

Under these conditions, women behaved more selfishly, while men became more prosocial. 

THE STUDY 

In their study, the team looked at the areas of the brain that are active when charitable decisions are made in two groups – one of 27 men and one of 26 women.

This area, known as the striatum, is found in the middle of the brain, and is responsible for the assessment of reward, becoming active when a decision is made.

Subjects made decisions between a ‘selfish reward option’ in which only the subject obtained 10 Swiss francs, and a ‘prosocial reward option’ in which both the subject and another person receive 7.50 Swiss francs.

The study showed that the striatum was more strongly activated in female brains during prosocial decisions than during selfish decisions.

By contrast, selfish decisions led to a stronger activation of the reward system in male brains. 

Dr Soutschek said the differences don’t necessarily have an evolutionary origin, and are more likely pushed onto us from birth as part of our cultural values.

‘The reward and learning systems in our brains work in close cooperation,’ Dr Soutschek.

‘Empirical studies show that girls are rewarded with praise for prosocial behaviour, implying that their reward systems learn to expect a reward for helping behaviour instead of selfish behaviour.

‘With this in mind, the gender differences that we observed in our studies could best be attributed to the different cultural expectations placed on men and women.’