Nav: Home

What sports matches reveal about gender roles

August 04, 2016

In the modern era, it's clear that women can do just about anything that men can do. But, according to researchers reporting evidence based on hours watching online videos of social interactions after professional sports matches, men and women still manage conflict differently, most likely based on differences in traditional gender roles that go way, way back. The findings are published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on August 4.

The study shows--across competitions in four sports with players from 44 different countries around the world--that men spend more time engaged in peaceful physical contact immediately after a sports match than women do. The findings suggest that men are more invested than women in ensuring that the conflict over who would win the match has ended, the researchers say. They also lend support to the so-called warrior hypothesis, which holds that men should work harder to patch up any hard feelings after a conflict within their own group so as to better work together against any outside threat down the line.

"We believe that human social structure resembles that of chimpanzees in which males cooperate in groups of unrelated same-sex peers and females cooperate more with family members and one or two good friends who act as family," says Joyce Benenson of Emanuel College and Harvard University. "Human males form large cooperative organizations that have changed the world. Females [traditionally] invest more in families to keep their children and other family members alive and thriving. We expect that this is an evolved sex difference in social structure that still operates today."

Benenson says that she and her colleagues got interested in this question of intragroup conflict resolution after years of questioning how men engage in contests between groups--in war and business, for example--while also engaging in continual competition within their social groups. They knew from earlier studies that male chimpanzees, who continually engage in aggressive conflicts, are also more likely than females to engage in post-conflict affiliation than females, presumably to allow them to then cooperate against hostile neighboring communities. They wondered whether the same was true of humans.

Benenson realized that they could test this notion in studies of sports matches, which serve as a proxy for aggressive combat with clear outcomes and standardized rules. The researchers found dozens of online videos of pairs of men and women playing high-level matches in tennis, table tennis, badminton, and boxing. But they weren't interested in what happened during the game or in the outcome. What they wanted to see was how the two competitors interacted just after the game had ended.

While it's customary to shake hands after a match, their observations showed that men consistently chose to spend more time in peaceful contact with their opponents after a game than women did.

According to the researchers, the findings might have modern-day implications that extend beyond sports. For example, they suggest that women might generally struggle more to resolve conflicts with same-sex peers at work and at play. She and her colleagues now hope to explore the physiological mechanisms that underlie the observed sex differences.
The study was funded by the Emmanuel College Faculty Development Committee.

Current Biology, Benenson and Wrangham:"Cross-Cultural Sex Differences in Post-Conflict Affiliation following Sports Matches"

Current Biology (@CurrentBiology), published by Cell Press, is a bimonthly journal that features papers across all areas of biology. Current Biology strives to foster communication across fields of biology, both by publishing important findings of general interest and through highly accessible front matter for non-specialists. Visit: To receive Cell Press media alerts, contact

Cell Press

Related Social Interactions Articles:

Researchers refute textbook knowledge in molecular interactions
Van der Waals interactions between molecules are among the most important forces in biology, physics, and chemistry, as they determine the properties and physical behavior of many materials.
Physicists use numerical 'tweezers' to study nuclear interactions
Researchers from North Carolina State University and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have developed numerical 'tweezers' that can pin a nucleus in place, enabling them to study how interactions between protons and neutrons produce forces between nuclei.
Hormone-influenced social strategies shape human social hierarchy, study shows
In a game of chicken, the most aggressive players are fueled by testosterone and are more willing to harm others; and while it may be easy to demonize such hawkish behaviors, psychology researchers from The University of Texas at Austin say there is sound evolutionary reason for their existence.
Coordination chemistry of anions through halogen-bonding interactions
While an IUPAC definition of hydrogen bonding was only released in 2011 after decades of discussions in the scientific community, it did not take such a long time to come up with an analogous definition of halogen bonding, following a revival of this interaction in the literature which can be traced back to the early 1990s, Fourmigué, M.
Are social networking sites good platforms for providing social support?
A critical review of 10 years of research on social support via social networking sites led to the identification of current trends and the development of recommendations to guide future research.
Multi-social millennials more likely depressed than social(media)ly conservative peers
Compared with the total time spent on social media, use of multiple platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health found in a national survey.
Dangerous drug interactions uncovered with data science
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and the Data Science Institute at Columbia University have uncovered a potentially dangerous drug interaction using data science.
Study: We understand that social media does not equal social interaction
If you worry that people today are using social media as a crutch for a real social life, a University of Kansas study will set you at ease.
Honeybee circadian rhythms are affected more by social interactions
Hebrew University field study shows for the first time that social time cues override influence of light and darkness in regulating the natural body clock of honeybees, highlighting the complexity of clock regulation in natural habitat
Where were you born? Origin matters for species interactions
Based on experiments with two species of beetle, ecologists from Rice University and Louisiana State University have determined that the early life experiences of individuals that migrate between local habitats can have wide-reaching impacts on the distribution of species across entire ecosystems.

Related Social Interactions Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".