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Saturday, January 6, 2024

Worth the Risk? Greater Acceptance of Instrumental Harm Befalling Men than Women

Graso, M., Reynolds, T. & Aquino, K.
Arch Sex Behav 52, 2433–2445 (2023).


Scientific and organizational interventions often involve trade-offs whereby they benefit some but entail costs to others (i.e., instrumental harm; IH). We hypothesized that the gender of the persons incurring those costs would influence intervention endorsement, such that people would more readily support interventions inflicting IH onto men than onto women. We also hypothesized that women would exhibit greater asymmetries in their acceptance of IH to men versus women. Three experimental studies (two pre-registered) tested these hypotheses. Studies 1 and 2 granted support for these predictions using a variety of interventions and contexts. Study 3 tested a possible boundary condition of these asymmetries using contexts in which women have traditionally been expected to sacrifice more than men: caring for infants, children, the elderly, and the ill. Even in these traditionally female contexts, participants still more readily accepted IH to men than women. Findings indicate people (especially women) are less willing to accept instrumental harm befalling women (vs. men). We discuss the theoretical and practical implications and limitations of our findings.

Here is my summary:

This research investigated the societal acceptance of "instrumental harm" (IH) based on the gender of the person experiencing it. Three studies found that people are more likely to tolerate IH when it happens to men than when it happens to women. This bias is especially pronounced among women and those holding egalitarian or feminist beliefs. Even in contexts traditionally associated with women's vulnerability, IH inflicted on men is seen as more acceptable.

These findings highlight a potential blind spot in our perception of harm and raise concerns about how policies might be influenced by this bias. Further research is needed to understand the underlying reasons for this bias and develop strategies to address it.