Men Who Harass Women Online Have Inferiority Complexes, Study Suggests

Men Who Harass Women Online Have Inferiority Complexes, Study Suggests

Academic studies can be fascinating... and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.

The Background

The gaming community is notoriously hostile to women. Despite the fact that 48 percent of gamers are women, you don't have to do much digging to find stories of female gamers who have been viciously harassed and had their lives threatened online. Researchers have become interested in these gender dynamics, hypothesizing that the hostile competition in video games is a microcosm of how things play out on the rest of the Internet and in the real world. How genders interact with each other in gaming, it seems, might just tell us a lot about what women in general encounter outside of these virtual fantasy worlds.

The Setup

A recent study out of the University of New South Wales and Miami University looked at the interactions between men and women playing the first-person shooter game Halo 3. The goal was to examine how players, who had no idea they were being studied, reacted to male and female-voiced teammates. (The game features a real-time voice channel where players are randomly assigned to teams with anonymous strangers with comparable skills, and can talk to one another.)

The researchers analyzed video recordings of 102 games in which they played with random Halo players using pre-recorded commentary by a male and female voice to interact with their unsuspecting teammates. The researchers broadcast a set of phrases that were deemed "harmless" and "inoffensive," like "I like this map," "nice shot there" or "I think I just saw a couple of them heading this way."

Then the researchers transcribed these interactions, deeming responses to the pre-recorded audio as positive, negative or neutral. Interestingly, none of the 147 teammates who interacted with the researchers during the games were women -- perhaps more proof gaming is a man's world.

The Findings

Of those 147 teammates who responded to the pre-recorded audio, 82 heard a female voice and 65 heard a male's voice. Men who were better at Halo tended to be more positive in their interactions, regardless of the gender of the voice they heard, while men who played poorly only responded positively to the man's voice.

Unsurprisingly, the woman's voice inspired a whole lot more negativity than the man's, especially from the guys who were bad at Halo -- they were considered "significantly more hostile towards females." The worse a male player was, the more likely he was to spew hate at a woman who outperformed him. These men didn't articulate their aggression delicately, saying things like "Should've made me a sandwich, b*tch," "It's the b*tch stealing my kills" and "Shut up, you whore."

The Takeaway

To summarize: The men who felt inferior to the women they were playing games with were more likely to harass them. Or as The Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey put it: "Men who harass women online are quite literally losers."

The researchers hypothesize that this dynamic persists thanks to evolutionary psychology. High-achieving women threaten low-achieving men's position on the social hierarchy, which makes these men feel like less desirable mates. Hence, aggression.

These findings are particularly troubling because they're based on the actions of men who had no idea they were being studied. This means they acted as they normally would in an un-policed environment. The way these scenarios played out -- successful female gets harassed by anonymous male -- is a reality for many women who simply want to play a game they enjoy or exist on the Internet (or in the world).

A possible solution, according to the researchers, is to communicate to men that "losing to the opposite sex is not socially debilitating." But honestly, it's pretty sad if these sore losers can't wade through their testosterone and figure that out themselves. Women can't be expected to kick men's butts at Halo and massage their egos at the same time.

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