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Sex differences in reasoning and emotion about altruism


This study examined sex differences in the resolution of prosocial dilemmas involving self-sacrifice. Women and men between 17 and 68 years of age were presented with hypothetical situations necessitating a choice between self and other, and asked to decide what they would choose to do. In addition, participants were asked why they made the choices they did and how they felt about them. Participants usually made the self-sacrificing choice, with no differences found between women and men in the distribution of self and other choices. Choices were justified on the basis of the respondents' own needs or those of the other person, conflict was minimized, or reasons were offered that involved stereotyped statements, interpersonal concerns, empathy, internalized affects and values, or a judgment about the capacity to help. Modes of reasoning differed somewhat between the sexes, with women using more empathic reasoning than men with other choces, and attributing their self choices more to minimal conflict and less to concern for the other's interests. There were also sex differences in participants' self-reported feelings about the choices they made. Specifically, there was evidence that women experienced more conflict than men about other choices and had more positive feelings than men did about their self choices. Several interpretations of these findings were discussed.

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Correspondence to Rosemary S. L. Mills.

Additional information

This research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant to Joan E. Grusec.

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Mills, R.S.L., Pedersen, J. & Grusec, J.E. Sex differences in reasoning and emotion about altruism. Sex Roles 20, 603–621 (1989).

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  • Social Psychology
  • Positive Feeling
  • Hypothetical Situation
  • Interpersonal Concern
  • Minimal Conflict