Sex differences in cooperation: A meta-analytic review of social dilemmas

D.P. Balliet, N.P. Li, S.J. MacFarlan, M. van Vugt

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    Although it is commonly believed that women are kinder and more cooperative than men, there is conflicting evidence for this assertion. Current theories of sex differences in social behavior suggest that it may be useful to examine in what situations men and women are likely to differ in cooperation. Here, we derive predictions from both sociocultural and evolutionary perspectives on context-specific sex differences in cooperation, and we conduct a unique meta-analytic study of 272 effect sizes-sampled across 50 years of research-on social dilemmas to examine several potential moderators. The overall average effect size is not statistically different from zero (d = -0.05), suggesting that men and women do not differ in their overall amounts of cooperation. However, the association between sex and cooperation is moderated by several key features of the social context: Male-male interactions are more cooperative than female-female interactions (d = 0.16), yet women cooperate more than men in mixed-sex interactions (d = -0.22). In repeated interactions, men are more cooperative than women. Women were more cooperative than men in larger groups and in more recent studies, but these differences disappeared after statistically controlling for several study characteristics. We discuss these results in the context of both sociocultural and evolutionary theories of sex differences, stress the need for an integrated biosocial approach, and outline directions for future research. © 2011 American Psychological Association.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)881-909
    JournalPsychological Bulletin
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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