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Male researchers mostly share their work with men

The scientific world is a competitive place. Even so, researchers are often prepared to share their findings with colleagues. This applies particularly to men as a group: women are much less willing to share their work, whether it is with other women or with men. This discovery was made by Leiden and Austrian researchers. Publication in Nature Scientific Reports.

We humans regard ourselves as very pro-social in comparison with other species, an image that has been confirmed in many different experiments. But such experiments are often carried out using psychology students in a relatively artificial environment. A research team that includes Leiden psychologist Mariska Kret and is headed by Jorg Massen from the Department of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Vienna wanted to find out how socially minded people are in a more everyday environment. The team therefore decided to test the willingness to share in a highly competitive field of work that they themselves know well: the world of science. 

Asking colleagues to share data

For their research they contacted some 300 fellow researchers from throughout the world, asking whther they would be prepared to share particular research findings with them - without anything being offered in return. In fact, the psychologists were not interested in the research findings, but they were keen to see whether they received a response to their request, and whether this was positive or negative. Unbeknown to themselves, the 300 colleagues were test subjects in the research.

Men share with men

The majority of the researchers responded positively to the request to share their work. What was remarkable was that men were much more prepared to share their work with other men. The men who received a request from a man agreed 15% more often than those who were asked by a woman, women who were asked by a woman and women who were asked by a man. The researchers put these large gender differences down to the increasing competition experienced by female researchers. Traditional scientific networks of which only men were members may also play a role, or the evolutionary history in which bonds were formed mainly among men. 

General pattern

According to Kret, who also conducts research on social behaviour in apes, female researchers can learn a lot from bonobos. 'They have a female leader specifically because the females provide such good support for one another.' In future, the team wants to explore whether these gender differences only occur in scientists, or whether it is a general pattern. 

The Leiden-Austrian research has been published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.