Are women more emotional than men?
If so, is it good or bad?
It seems to depend on who you ask.
If we want to know which sex possesses the more finely attuned capacity for empathy, culture warriors will proclaim that women are more empathetic because they are in closer touch with their emotions. This implies that women are better at interpersonal relationships, especially the kinds the involve shared feelings.
If we want to know which sex makes quicker and more rational judgments when faced with moral dilemmas, researchers have now shown that men do so because their rational faculties are not muddled by emotion.
NPR reports on the study, which used, among others, the following hypothetical:
You find a time machine and travel to 1920. A young Austrian artist and war veteran named Adolf Hitler is staying in the hotel room next to yours. The doors aren't locked, so you could easily stroll next door and smother him. World War II would never happen.
But Hitler hasn't done anything wrong yet. Is it acceptable to kill him to prevent World War II?
The results suggest that men are more likely to be willing to murder the future tyrant. Yet, it is fair to say that women, being constitutionally weaker, might doubt their ability to smother anyone, especially a grown man.
The researchers suggest that women hesitate and demur because they are more conflicted. They are more conflicted because they give more weight to their feelings. Thus, they have a harder time deciding.
"Women seem to be more likely to have this negative, emotional, gut-level reaction to causing harm to people in the dilemmas, to the one person, whereas men were less likely to express this strong emotional reaction to harm," Rebecca Friesdorf, the lead author of the study, tells Shots.
"Women seem to be feeling more equal levels of both emotion and cognition. They seem to be experiencing similar levels of both, so it's more difficult for them to make their choice," she says.
Or else, examine another hypothetical used by the researchers. In this one people were asked whether they would pimp out a daughter to a porn movie director in order to save the family farm:
"You are the head of a poor household in a developing country. Your crops have failed for the second year in a row, and it appears that you have no way to feed your family. Your sons, ages 8 and 10, are too young to go off to the city where there are jobs, but your daughter could fare better.
"You know a man from your village who lives in the city and who makes sexually explicit films featuring girls such as your daughter. In front of your daughter, he tells you that in one year of working in his studio, your daughter could earn enough money to keep your family fed for several growing seasons.
"Is it appropriate for you to employ your daughter in the pornography industry in order to feed your family?"
The study reports that very, very few people would accept the bargain… if you wish to call it that. Evidently, the moral obligation to protect a child’s dignity trumps all other considerations.
What difference does this difference make?
Friesdorf suggests that it shows that men and women executives make decisions differently:
Even though the dilemmas seem far-fetched, Friesdorf says we encounter less dramatic variations of them all the time.
For instance, a manager might need to make an employment decision that would weigh the future of one person against the fate of a group. "If these [gender] differences also hold in that context, then that could have some implications for how women and men are making those decisions," she says.
Women, in other words, think more about the consequences for an individual while men are more able to think in terms of the good of the group.
Does this make men better executives? And, what would Sheryl Sandberg say about this?
Take a less dramatic example—of my invention-- from the business world.
What should a manager do when one of his staff members is so incompetent that he is damaging sales, company reputation and profitability? If this person continues with the company he will destroy the careers of everyone around him, including his manager.
Now, let’s make the situation gut-wrenching. Imagine that this staff member is a widower who is the sole support of two small children. Perhaps, one of the children has special needs or suffers from an illness that can only be treated through the company health insurance. If he is fired he will have a great difficulty finding a job and this will surely hurt his children. He will have to go on the Obamacare exchanges and his child’s physician and hospital will not accept the insurance offered there.
Now, what do you do?
What influences your decision more, your empathy for the employee’s life circumstances or the good of the company?
In the best circumstances, employers will try to find a mean between the two extremes. They will find another job in the company where the poorly performing employee can do the least damage, while keeping his salary and health insurance.
They would be willing to take a small hit to the bottom line in order to help this man out.
Even though this appears to be the best alternative, it represents a clear public humiliation for the demoted employee.
If, however, this solution is not available, the research study suggests that a female manager will be more likely to feel sympathy for the employee’s life circumstances while the male manager will more likely look to what is best for the company.