The common knowledge that women are kinder and less selfish than men has been confirmed, and possibly explained, by neuroscience.
A study published Monday from the University of Zurich found that kind or generous actions produce higher levels dopamine (a chemical physiologically related to happiness) in women’s brains than they do in men’s. Philippe Tobler, an associate professor at the university and a co-author of the study, clarified that the findings do not tell whether the chemical rewards for “prosocial” behavior are innate in women or if they are induced by culture.
“It is known that girls receive different kinds of feedback than boys for being prosocial,” Tobler told The Guardian. “It is perfectly conceivable that the root of the differences here are only cultural – we simply don’t know.”
The study examined two different experiments. The first experiment presented a group of 56 men and women with a placebo and amulspride, a drug which blocks dopamine receptors in the brain. After taking one of the pills, participants were presented with a situation in which they found a pile of cash on the ground and had to choose whether to take it for themselves or share it.
After answering the question, participants then took the second pill and answered the question again.
The study found that after taking the placebo, women chose to share the cash 51 percent of the time, while men only chose to share 40 percent of the time. Under the amulspride, however, women chose to share only 45 percent of the time and men jumped up to sharing at a rate of 44 percent.
The second experiment administered a brain imaging scan to 40 men and women who were undergoing a similar money-related question. The imaging examined an area of the brain related to value-processing and found that women’s brains produced more dopamine there than men’s when choosing to share the money.
The study’s authors argue that these two experiments present an answer to the question of why women are generally more kind than men.
“The neural reward system appears to be more sensitive to prosocial rewards in women than in men, providing a neurobiological account for why women often behave more prosocially than men,” the study’s abstract concludes.
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