“Our study indicates that we think women’s welfare should be preserved over men’s,” said the study’s lead author Oriel FeldmanHall, a post-doctoral researcher at New York University.
The research was conducted at Cambridge University’s Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and Columbia University, The findings appeared in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
In one experiment, study subjects read one of three versions of a “Trolley Dilemma” – a commonly used technique in psychology studies and akin to the “Lifeboat Question” ( if you could save only three of five passengers in a lifeboat, whom would you choose?).
In the trolley scenario, participants read one of three versions of the dilemma, where each vignette described a man, woman or gender-neutral bystander on the bridge.
The participants were then asked how willing they were to “push the (man/woman/person) onto the path of the oncoming trolley” in order to save five others farther down the track. The results showed that both female and male participants were much more likely to push the male bystander or one of unspecified gender than they were the female bystander.
In a second experiment, participants showed an aversion to harming females - even when this came at their own financial expense.
“There is indeed a gender bias in these matters: society perceives harming women as more morally unacceptable,” study co-author Dean Mobbs, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University, noted.