Men in Groups Make Extreme Decisions

A typical comedy movie premise is that a group of guys make increasingly extreme decisions together, resulting in a mess as seen in The Hangover. According to Harvard Business Review, the scientific reality may not be too far off from that. Hristina Nikolova and Cait Lamberton share research demonstrating that men and women make different decisions in groups.

The Testosterone Tornado

As a rule, individual people of either gender are prone to the “compromise effect.” This means that when given a set of options from which to select, an individual will be most likely to pick the option that represents a middle ground. The article gives the example of purchasing a car. If there is a car with a great interior, a car that gets great mileage, and a car that merely has a “good” interior and gets good mileage, a person will probably pick that last, balanced option.

When women are paired off to make a joint-decision together, the compromise effect remains. In fact, nothing too extraordinary happens in a man-woman pairing either. However, when two men are paired together, everything changes. They are likely to pick a more extreme option—consistently, according to the authors’ research. Two men who need to buy a car are going to buy the monster truck that shoots fire and plays “Enter Sandman” as its car horn (a mild exaggeration, but you get the idea).

Why does this happen? The best theory is that it is another case of evolutionary biology doing whacky things to us. Men used to compete on a much more primordial level for resources, and so when men are grouped together today, they might feel an unconscious need to look as “manly” as possible to the other guys. Thus, they cast aside silly feminine notions such as “moderation” to show that they are top dogs who go big or go home. The problem here, of course, is that allowing a group consisting exclusively of men to make big decisions could lead to extreme outcomes. Extreme choices are not always conducive to good business.

There are ways to circumvent this effect. One, obviously, is to bring more women into the decision-making process. But there is a goofier option too:

Fortunately, men who want to reach moderation do have options. We found that if male pairs are given the opportunity to signal their masculinity prior to the decision making (for example, by jointly choosing a stereotypically male magazine as a reward for their study participation), their tendency to avoid compromise alternatives dissolves. Something as simple as this prompted our male decision-making pairs to show preferences for compromise options that were similar to female pairs’.

It is incalculably sad that an issue of Maxim could have the needed pacifying effect, but this is the situation we have inherited, folks. On the flipside of all this nonsense, marketers could exploit this knowledge to great effect: If they see a room full of men, they should exploit their tendencies to make extreme options.

You can view the original article here:

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