Costly retaliation is promoted by threats to resources in women and threats to status in men
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What motivates people to act against their own self-interest? In men, what seems to be irrational decision-making in the short-term may be explained by other long-term benefits; thus retaliation may not be motivated by tangible costs, but instead intangible psychological variables (e.g., status threats). In contrast, there is evidence that women are more sensitive to tangible costs than are men. In Experiment 1, using the Point Subtraction Aggression Paradigm (PSAP), we tested the prediction that in men, the frequency of provocation, and not the monetary loss (tangible cost), would be associated with retaliation, whereas women would be sensitive to the tangible costs. In keeping with the prediction, women (n = 80) who incurred greater tangible costs (irrespective of frequency) retaliated with more costly punishment, whereas men (n = 90) who were provoked more frequently (irrespective of tangible costs) retaliated with more costly punishment. In Experiment 2, we directly investigated whether women were more sensitive to threats to resources and men were more sensitive to threats to status, as suggested by the results of Experiment 1. Women's (n = 53) retaliation was greater when they reported it to be a means to protect their resources, and men's (n = 35) retaliation was greater when they reported it to be a means to protect their status. Thus, these results identify psychological variables that guide retaliation that is costly to the actor. Consistent with evolutionary perspectives, concerns about status appear to drive costly retaliatory behavior more so in men than in women.
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