Gender Differences in Moral Reasoning Rooted in Emotion

Gender Differences in Moral Reasoning Rooted in EmotionGender Differences in Moral Reasoning Rooted in Emotion

A new study has revealed that gender difference in moral judgments is rooted in emotion, not reasoning.

Would it be right to kill Adolf Hitler when he was still a young Austrian artist to prevent World War II and save millions of lives? Should a police officer torture an alleged bomber to find hidden explosives that could kill many people at a local cafe? When faced with such dilemmas, men are typically more willing to accept harmful actions for the sake of the greater good than women, who would be less likely to support the killing of a young Hitler or torturing a bombing suspect, even if doing so would ultimately save more lives.

As per the research, this gender difference in moral decisions is caused by stronger emotional aversion to harmful action among women; the study found no evidence for gender differences in the rational evaluation of the outcomes of harmful actions.

Lead research author Rebecca Friesdorf said that women are more likely to have a gut-level negative reaction to causing harm to an individual, while men experience less emotional responses to doing harm, which runs contrary to the common stereotype that women being more emotional means that they are also less rational.

Researchers found no evidence for gender differences in utilitarian reasoning. The findings suggest that women have a stronger emotional aversion to causing harm than men.

However, men and women engage in similar levels of rational thinking about the outcomes of harmful action.

The findings are in line with previous research showing that women are more empathetic to the feelings of other people than men, whereas gender differences in cognitive abilities tend to be small or nonexistent, Friesdorf says.

The study is published online in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.