Hah! Suspicion Confirmed

A whole raft of scientific studies has concluded that women are better than men at making decisions—especially at times of stress.

Writing in The New York Times, Therese Huston, a cognitive psychologist at Seattle University who is working on a book about women and decision making, says there is evidence that women bring unique strengths to making decisions in pressure-filled situations.

She cites work by neuroscientists in this country and around the world that showed that “under normal circumstances, when everything is low-key and manageable, men and women make decisions about risk in similar ways…But add stress to the situation…and men and women begin to part ways.”

Huston writes that men tend to take more risks when under pressure because they “experience a larger spike in cortisol.” But a slight increase in cortisol seems to improve decision-making among women.

Experiments by other researchers showed that under stressful conditions, women “found it easier than usual to empathize and to take the other person’s perspective. Just the opposite happened for the stressed men — they became more egocentric.”

Huston then wondered whether these findings hold true in the real world. She cites a report by Credit Suisse which after examining almost 2,400 global corporations from 2005 to 2011 – the years preceding and following the financial crisis – found that companies with at least one woman on their boards out-performed comparable companies with all-male boards.

It is unfortunate, Huston writes, “that women are often asked to lead only during periods of intense stress. It’s a phenomenon called the glass cliff in which highly qualified women are asked to lead organizations only in times of crisis.”

Huston concluded, “If more women were key decision makers, perhaps organizations could respond effectively to small stresses, rather than letting them escalate into huge ones.”

You might want to think about all this when filling out your ballot in the mid-term election – and please, please be sure to vote on November 4 – and consider choosing good women candidates (the sane ones) over men. Perhaps if our Congress had more women members, there would have been less gridlock, and more work of substance accomplished in the past six years of President Obama’s term. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently made a similar point, saying women are more focused on finding common ground and collaborating. Wouldn’t that be a nice change in Washington?

3 comments on “Hah! Suspicion Confirmed

  1. Roger Keyser says:

    Interesting finding. To me, it makes sense if you think of it from an evolutionary point of view. Imagine a family of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. A threatening predator animal (e.g., hungry bear) bursts onto their scene. The man grabs a spear or some other weapon, following the most basic fight-or-flight instinct and charges into the fight. The woman, also shocked, must follow a more reasoned reaction for the survival of the family. She picks up the baby, grabs ahold of the other children, and flees the scene. The best overall survival of their gene pool requires both reactions. So it makes sense that the female response should be a lower dose of cortisol, which should lead to an urgent, but more reasoned reaction. The male’s response needs a huge dose, to spark the rage needed to fight to the death. That’s the way we, the survivors, were made.

    Our societies are no longer the same, but the threats and the biological responses are still present. A balanced mix of genders ought to be a good recipe for success, and possibly a bit of common ground, as long as we pick the sane ones, IMHO.

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