Study Finds Men Who Harass Women Online Are, Quite Literally, Losers

Female gamers are more likely to be abused online by male players with more deaths and fewer kills.

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A study has found that if you're a man who isn't very good at gaming, you're probably not very good at treating women respectfully either.

Mikal Marquez / Flickr: mikal-danielle

The study, conducted by Michael Kasumovic from the University of New South Wales and Jeffrey Kuznekoff from Miami University, found that men who were lower-ranked and performed poorly while playing a multiplayer first-person shooting game were more likely to harass female players than male players.

To carry out the study, one of the researchers played 163 games of Halo 3, using a female voice for 126 of those games.

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When the researcher used his own voice, he got more positive comments from teammates who died more often.

But when he used a female voice, he was the subject of more negative comments, especially from the players who weren't doing as well.

"We suggest low-status males increase female-directed hostility to minimise the loss of status," the study said.

In contrast, the poor-performing men "behaved submissively towards a male-voiced player in the identical scenario".

"Lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly," the study found.

But what about the men who were good at the game? They were nicer to the female players than the male players.

The way that men treated other men was not affected by their skill level.

"Our results suggest that the women who tend to do better are more likely to become targets from men that are underperforming," Kasumovic told BuzzFeed News.

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"It is specifically the more successful women that are a bigger threat to men that are lower in the hierarchy. So I think our results can be extended to other environments where male-biased sex ratios exist."

The researchers acknowledged previous studies that found women were four times more likely to experience negative comments playing online games.

Video games also often contain sexist imagery and violence towards women. While the gaming population is evenly split between the genders, the researchers say first-person shooters are still male-dominated communities.

Of the 189 players they encountered playing Halo 3, none of the players were female.

Kasumovic, whose background is in evolutionary biology, said online harassment is a type of bullying that comes from a fear of being perceived as lower within a hierarchy.

"Bullying tends to remain a viable strategy when hierarchies exist because it allows individuals to increase their status thereby preventing others from rising above them," he wrote in The Conversation.

"Men who are afraid of losing their position in a hierarchy to a woman may be lashing out, leaning on the most stereotypical traits because they have the effect of reducing a woman’s power."

The researchers wrote that this kind of male behaviour in gaming is tied in with "negging", when men try to undermine a woman's confidence to increase their chances of sexual contact.

"A secondary benefit of increased female-directed hostility is that it simultaneously decreases a female’s confidence and perception of her self-worth (i.e. negging) while simultaneously increasing the perception of him being a dominant (i.e. socially valuable) mate," the researchers said.

"Higher-skilled (i.e. more dominant) males do not behave in this manner as there is no need for them to reinforce their dominance to maintain their attractiveness."

They add that there is no scientific evidence that negging works.

The research concluded that evolutionary theory can help explain sexist and bullying behaviour towards women.

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"Low-status males that have the most to lose due to a hierarchical reconfiguration are responding to the threat female competitors pose," the study found.

"High-status males with the least to fear were more positive, suggesting they were switching to a supportive, and potentially, mate attraction role."

The researchers say it is "troubling" that video games can reinforce gender segregation and promote sexism. They say one way to address this behaviour is to teach young men that it's not a bad thing to lose to the opposite sex.

"I think the best thing that can be done is reinforcing equality between men and women," Kasumovic told BuzzFeed News.

"If we have equality, then men wouldn't feel bad losing to women because the stigma associated with losing to a woman wouldn't exist. This could potentially reduce sexist behaviour."

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at alexandra.lee@buzzfeed.com.

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