Researchers now reveal that men with the worst performances and the lowest skill levels are the ones who mostly make abusive comments towards women players.
The study has been titled "Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behavior." The researchers surveyed 163 sessions of video game Halo 3, wherein they kept a watch on the behavior of men during the game and the findings of the study was quite surprising. Halo 3 is a popular Xbox 360 first-person shooter game which includes an online multi-player mode wherein actual human beings can speak to each other, in real time.
During the experiment, of the 163 sessions, 82 were in pre-recorded female voice for response whereas the rest 81 was in pre-recorded female voice. Players spoke only within 102 sessions of the total 163. Totally 189 players spoke in these 102 games and all of them were males. The game had female participants; however they did not speak during the entire game, indicating it was an overall male dominating environment during the experiment.
Further, researchers had attached an audio playback device to the Xbox controllers of the players, obviously without their knowledge, which enabled them to "broadcast pre-recorded audio clips to other players as if they were speaking to each other through the real-time voice channel."
The experiment was comprised of three manipulations:
- Control where matches were played as normal
- Male manipulation where pre-recorded male voices were broadcast to players over real time
- Female manipulation where pre-recorded female voices were broadcast to players over real time
As per their research paper, researchers have concluded that:
"We found that skill determined the frequency of positive and negative statements spoken towards both male- and female-voiced teammates. In addition, poorer performance (fewer kills and more deaths) resulted in more negative statements specifically in the female-voiced manipulation. We thus argue that our results best support an evolutionary explanation of female-directed aggression. Low-status males that have the most to lose due to a hierarchical reconfiguration are responding to the threat female competitors pose. High-status males with the least to fear were more positive, suggesting they were switching to a supportive, and potentially, mate attraction role."
Researchers thus concluded that most of the times men using the abusive comments against women players are the ones who are either worst performers or the ones with lower skills. It was seen that female-voiced manipulation faced a greater number of negative comments; however as the focal player performance improved there was a drastic decrease in the female directed negativity. As the skill increased the focal players increased the use of positive statements.
The researchers said: "The idea that video games may be reinforcing such gender segregation as the norm for many teenagers is troubling given the fact that a significant proportion of them are gamer. Such ideas have the potential to spill over in real-life interactions and promote socially unacceptable behaviors such as sexism."
The interesting fact about this experiment is that the findings and conclusions are applicable to other online platforms where users have the freedom to say and act anonymously, for instance Twitter or Reddit. The study concludes:
While speaking to the author of the Washington Post article, Kasumovic stated: "As men often rely on aggression to maintain their dominant social status, the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female's performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank. This idea is reinforced by the fact that higher-skilled males that should not feel threatened by a female increased their number of positive comments."
The study has further highlighted certain interesting traits of the poor performing males. For instance, when a high performing male leads the poor performer male, then the lower performer male showed a positive behavior; thus the study authors have concluded that poor performer and low skilled males usually show a 'submissive behavior'.
The study authors further assumed that this behavior could be partly due to the cooperative nature of Halo 3. In addition, the study also revealed that in case of higher skilled and successful male players, they were positive as well as encouraging to both, male as well as female players.
Researchers believe that the study offers a hope wherein the abusive male behavior can be changed even in case of the lowest performing males.
According to researchers:
"By demonstrating that female-directed hostility primarily originates from low-status, poorer-performing males, our results suggest that a way to counter it may be through teaching young males that 'losing to the opposite sex is not socially debilitating'. This can be most easily done using video games as the gaming population is nearly equally split between men (52%) and women (48%)."
A recent report from Pew Research Center reveals that 40% of internet users have experienced online harassment while almost 73% of them have witnessed such harassment happening to others.