When humans find themselves under stress or out of balance, they tend to exhibit an 'all or nothing' behavior, which is exacerbated by feelings of anxiety. Men, in particular, tend to display this type of behavior compared to women, according to a study.

This all or nothing behavior is known as the greater-male-variability hypothesis, an offshoot of evolutionary theory. It is the idea that men tend to find themselves more likely at either the very low or very high end of the normal curve on the cognitive, physical, and behavioral characteristics. For women, they are more likely to converge at the center.

Greater-Male-Variability In Cooperation

Previous studies have found that men show more variation in their height, weight, 60-meter dash times, and many others. They also show more variation in spatial performance, verbal ability, intelligence, and physical aggression.

An article in Forbes reported new research that revealed that the greater-male-variability hypothesis might come into play in the cooperative behavior of a man. The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

According to the researchers, men tend to behave either extremely selfishly or extremely altruistically in social dilemma games, like the Prisoner's dilemma scenario and other games that involve cooperation.

The researchers, led by Christian Thöni of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, said that cooperation is an essential part of any social situation, such as tax compliance, voting, charitable giving, environmental protection, social distancing, self-isolation, and even corruption.

But the most important question to ask is what predicts cooperation among people in these situations, the researchers added. They believe that gender plays a significant role in predicting cooperation.

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Gender As Predictor of Cooperation

The researchers looked at different research literature about gender differences in cooperative behavior and included it in their study, in a broadscale meta-analysis, identifying 40 samples from 23 social dilemma issues that fit their criteria.

Initially, they found no difference in the cooperative behavior of both men and women in the games. Both sexes gave a similar effort to promote the collective good of the group in a game that does not depend on their gender.

But what's fascinating is that the researchers observed a trend in their behavior. Over time, men became more likely to contribute very little or very much in the game.

That means they tend to either fall in the category of free riders who maximize their benefit while contributing the minimum amount for the greater good, or they fall into the category of unconditional helpers that help others even at their own expense and their help was not reciprocated.

On the other hand, women were more likely to offer partial support to the game or to conditionally cooperate in social dilemma experiments.

"By focusing on variability of behaviors rather than central tendencies, we were able to provide evidence for strong and systematic sex differences in the distribution of cooperation behaviors," the researchers said.

Significance of Knowing Sex Differences in Cooperation

The team said that the findings of the study are important because cooperation is not just the only prevailing focus on the central tendency that is masked by sex differences in the tail-end of the normal curve. The researchers believe that it is also seen today, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health officials are trying their best to control overreactors and underreactors of the pandemic. Overreactors tend to engage in hoarding, while the underreactors makes an effort in triggering more the coronavirus bear.

This research tells people that understanding these overreactors and underreactors should perhaps be focused on their sexes instead of their personality and life-situation variables.

READ MORE: Y Chromosomes Shed Light Why Men Function Differently Than Women

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