Why men are selfish and women are social?

The new research based on brain imaging discovered that men are naturally selfish and women have a tendency for an unconscious altruistic (pro-social) response.

Women have a different brain reaction than men, which drives them to help others. The differences are obvious when the activity in the brain is recorded. However, the researchers are not convinced whether the response is evolution-driven or culturally imprinted, since girls are encouraged to be helpful, while boys usually get rewards for being tough.

Women enjoy being altruistic, while men get a kick from being selfish

Researchers discovered that the women’s part of brain displayed a greater response with regard to sharing money, while the same structure revealed more activity in men when they kept the money for themselves.

A series of experiments was designed to test reactions of males and females in a situation that was either socially-oriented or self-oriented.

56 female and male participants had to select between keeping some cash for themselves or sharing it with others. Then researchers viewed brain imaging scans to see which zones were activated during the behaviour.

  • The reward centres in men got activated when they were allowed to keep the money.
  • Women’s enjoyment came when they shared with others. Besides, the ladies were more generous.

“Women tend to have more subjective value on any prosocial behaviour while men find some selfish behaviour to be more valuable,” the associate professor of neuroeconomics of University of Zurich Philippe Tobler concluded.

The activity in the brain changes in proportion to the given value in social experiences, the study revealed.

Why men are selfish?

Alexander Soutschek, the leading researcher behind the study, believes the results show that women’s and men’s brains “process generosity differently at the pharmacological level”.

Tobler with his colleagues now focused on “dopamine system” to look for answers why men are selfish.

Dopamine plays an important role in the brain’s reward system that is released during a period of pleasure, yet it helps us process values.

This mental capability transpires within the machinery of the brain known as the striatum. The Latin word “stripe”, this striatum is threaded along with fibres, which receive as well as transmit signals from the thalamus, cerebral cortex, and other brain parts.

A placebo was offered before making the participants make decisions. The result indicated that husbands tend to be more selfish than wives.

But after receiving a drug known as amisulpride that interrupted their dopamine systems, ladies became more selfish, while guys acted more generous. (Amisulpride is an antipsychotic usually used in treating symptoms of schizophrenia.)

Depending on genders’ opposing priorities, interrupting the dopamine system had opposing effects: It made women more selfish and men more altruistic.

Culture plays a major role, researchers point out

Academics believe that culturally-determined responses, encoded in the neurological paths, could be the main trigger for certain responses in males and females, connected with either altruism or egoism.

In this view, it would be interesting to see whether the experiments with people of different nations would give the same results.

For instance, we know that Russian women are taught to be supportive since they are little girls. Young girls grow up to believe that their function in life is to support the partner (husband) in his endeavours and that his career pursuits are more valuable than hers, because he will be the provider and breadwinner when she has kids and looks after the youth.

Would Slavic girls from countries of the former Soviet Union be less selfish than their American sisters? An international team of researchers would be able to give an answer to a question like that.

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This is funny. My personal experiences have revealed the exact opposite to be true. The women I’ve known are much more selfish than men, and the men I’ve known are much more generous and selfless. Perhaps this study was performed on Slavic women and men. Maybe they should try the same study in Western Europe and/or the USA. I’m sure the results would be very different.


John, Perhaps you judge behaviors differently to scientists 🙂 They conduct a valid experiment and you view your own interactions as a benchmark. But in your own interactions you are an active agent, while in the experiment all participants are in the same conditions, which highlight real differences in behaviors of each gender collectively. Thus, as a group, men demonstrated a more selfish set of responses and women were more giving and altruistic. Personally, I agree that women think of the collective good more than men, who, I believe, are more orientated towards a personal gain. But the study was… Read more »


I will not be surprised if researchers do ultimately find cultural imprinting plays a major (if not dominant role) in programming the dopamine release patterns. As a man of aboriginal Native American (Mohawk Nation) descent I’ve observed how radically variable such imprinting can be, depending on culture and paradigm. In the mainstream American culture, I’ve witnessed the dominant imprinting of men there, as expected, does preferentially reward selfish behaviors. Conversely, in healthy traditional Mohawk communities, this pattern is ‘notably attenuated’, and might even approach what a cultural neuro-anthropologist would categorize as a comparatively healthy organic baseline and on a par… Read more »


You could be right. Dopamine release patterns in men and women possibly can differ between ethnicities or as you point out, be determined culturally. The leading scientist in this research was Alexander Soutschek, and the study doesn’t explain much about cultural backgrounds of its test subjects, their age etc. An experiment in another country with different test subjects may not conclude that men are more selfish than women.