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Sex Differences in a Crisis Simulation Game was the subject of Rose McDermott‘s presentation at the Institute of International Studies here in Berkeley, CA. I find my thoughts returning again and again to that data based lecture and its profound implications for humanity.

McDermott’s experiment was a game which was simple enough that it is easily redone to verify the results. The game consists of two people who are cast as the arbitrators between their respective countries. These countries are separated by a river and they are contesting the rights to a resource-rich island just off shore of the mouth of the river. The subjects of this experiment communicate with each other only through computer terminals and never see each other. They are paid $20 for an hour of game play with a $10 bonus if they “win”. After running this game a few times McDermott noticed a sex biased linkage and began testing for androgenic hormones in the saliva of the players in later games. It was observed that there was a high correlation between testosterone and aggressiveness and chance taking behavior—no surprise there—but also a high relationship to overall nastiness of verbal interactions. She applied the usual Personality Measures to these subjects: Social Dominance, Orientation, Anger, Thrill-seeking, Machiavellianism, Need for Achievement, Narcissism, Self-Esteem, Depression and Stress.

The results showed men to be four times more likely to threaten their opponent than the women. Also early in the game the men allocated more of their game resources to weapons than production and were more likely to initiate the use of weapons. There was a general decrease of aggressiveness as testosterone decreased with advancing age of the tested subjects, except for post-menopausal women who had an increase in testosterone and aggression. This hormone was positively associated with positive self illusions and overconfidence, with high testosterone laden males consistently overestimating their success even in the face of proven failure and low testosterone females consistently rating themselves lower even in the face of proven success. Also the females over responded quickly to negative feedback and were slow to recover from it. The paper based questionnaire self assessment tests given before and after the game play was a better indicator of personal actions than the environmental input from their competitor. It was observed that violence in childhood and especially in pubescence coupled with high testosterone creates a violent aggressive personality.

After the formal presentation I spoke with Rose McDermott for a few minutes from the perspective of The Earthark Project and if she thought people were as nasty behind their normal personas as they appeared to be in her gaming encounters. I said that it was easy to observe students walking alone on campus looking rather distracted and grumpy but those who were on cell phones usually looked quite happy. The cell phone was rather like the invisible wall created by the computer monitor in her game simulations. If the abstracting from immediate fighting was permitted by the cell phone as it was in the computer game then one would expect the phone conversations to be more hostile than face to face conversations. But the people on their cell phones appear to be much friendlier than her game playing subjects and more happy than when they are alone. This needs to be looked into objectively.

The Earthark must be built because sometimes the very hostile people are in charge of the world’s super-weapons.