Instead, a recent series of studies by Laura Kray and Michael Haselhuhn suggests that the root of this pattern may be more socio-cultural in nature, as men – at least in American culture – seem motivated to protect and defend their masculinity. These scientists suggest that losing a “battle,” particularly in contexts that are highly competitive and historically male oriented, presents a threat to masculine competency. Apparently manhood is relatively fragile and precarious, and when it is challenged, men tend to become more aggressive and defensive. So a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. To ensure victory, men will sacrifice moral standards if doing so means winning.
To test this theory, Kray and Haselhuhn conducted several experiments in which they examined not only the kinds of moral decisions made by men and women, but also the personal and situational factors that influenced those decisions. In one study, participants evaluated an ethical scenario in which an elderly couple was selling their home of 40 years with the expectation that the buyer would maintain their cherished abode. The buyer, however, intended to raze the structure and build a new home on the property. Participants had to indicate whether the buyer was morally obligated to reveal the conflicting intentions. Participants also completed a separate questionnaire that assessed the extent to which they perceived negotiating as a masculine endeavor.
Consistent with other findings, men in this investigation were more tolerant of withholding information from the seller. Moreover, this leniency was more prevalent for men who perceived negotiating as a masculine endeavor.