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Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behavior

Posted December 16, 2014
Image credit: Michiel via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0.

Image credit: Michiel via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0.

Every year the British Medical Journal presents a series of papers in their Christmas edition that are meant to be one part science and two parts of… hilarious research. According to a new paper in this year’s edition, men are especially prone to serious accidents and fatal mistakes because they are “idiots and do stupid things.”

A team of all-male researchers from Newcastle University decided to test the theory by examining sex differences in “idiotic risk-taking behaviour” among Darwin Award nominees over a 20-year (1995-2014) span. The Darwin Awards commemorate those who die not in accidental deaths but in idiotic accidents involving “astonishingly stupid methods”.

Researchers refused to include situations when people shoot themselves in the head because death due to this reason occurs ‘too often’ and it is classed as an accidental. So what can be classed as “worth to mention”? For example, one situation involved a man who modified his car to start only after touching two live wires together under the hood of his car. He later was run over by the vehicle and dragged to death after trying to do so.

The authors of the study selected more than 300 winners of the annual Darwin Awards which were evaluated according to five criteria: death, style, veracity, capability and self-selection. Of 332 independently verified nominations 14 were ruled out from the analysis because they were shared by male and females – mostly couples trapped in adventurous in compromising positions. Of the 318 remaining fatal blunders, 282 (88.7 percent) were awarded to men – a staggeringly high proportion. Just 36 were given to women. A gender difference was entirely consistent with “male idiot theory” which, according to its supporters, means that males are much more likely to receive a Darwin Award than females.

Although sex differences in risk seeking behaviour are well documented, little is known about the gender gap in idiotic risk taking behaviour. Besides, researchers tested too small number of deaths to make a good conclusion about males’ idiotic behavior.

The authors of the study are planning to improve their research. “We believe this deserves further investigation, and, with the festive season upon us, we intend to follow up with observational field studies and an experimental study—males and females, with and without alcohol—in a semi-naturalistic Christmas party setting.”


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