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Why Men Do Stupid Things

A new study of foolish risk-taking upholds the "Male Idiot Theory."

Although I am a man, I’m also a believer in accepting—not denying—scientific truth, whether or not it challenges personal beliefs and convictions. Therefore, I am obligated to report this interesting study, winner of the Darwin Award, regarding sex differences in idiotic behavior. Researchers tested “Male Idiot Theory” (MIT), which contends that many of the differences in risk-seeking behavior may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things. To my male embarrassment, but with a commitment to science, I acknowledge that the data confirms it.

The research, reported in the British Medical Journal, reviewed data on idiotic behaviors, as demonstrated by winners of the Darwin Award over a 20-year period, and noted the sex of the winner. The Darwin Awards Committee distinguishes between idiotic deaths and accidental deaths. For instance, someone who shoots himself in the head to demonstrate that a gun is loaded may be eligible for a Darwin Award. This occurred when a man who shot himself in the head with a “spy pen” weapon, in order to show his friend that it was real. Or, a person who mailed a letter bomb with insufficient postage stamps and who, on its return, unthinkingly opened his own letter

The study pointed out that many of the sex differences in risk-seeking behavior, emergency department admissions, and mortality may be explained by Male Idiot Theory. The research reviewed the data on winners of the Darwin Award over a 20-year period. It found a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners: males are significantly more likely to receive the award than females. Males made up 88.7% of Darwin Award winners, and this sex difference is highly statistically significant, according to the authors. This finding, they report, is entirely consistent with MIT and supports the hypothesis that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.

However, this study has limitations, add the authors. For example, women may be more likely to nominate men for a Darwin Award; or the sex difference may reflect differences in alcohol use between men and women. Alcohol may be more likely to lead men to feel “bulletproof” after a few drinks. For example, the three men who played a variation on Russian roulette, alternately taking shots of alcohol and then stamping on an unexploded Cambodian land mine. The mine eventually exploded, demolishing the bar and killing all three men.

Overall, the researchers observe that the Darwin Award winners seem to make little or no real assessment of the risk or attempt at risk management. They just do it anyway—simply as a rite of passage, in pursuit of male social esteem, or solely in exchange for “bragging rights.”

The researchers conclude that male idiot theory deserves further investigation, but until it provides a full and satisfactory explanation of idiotic male behavior, hospital emergency departments will continue to pick up the pieces, often literally.

A complete description of the research and its data is found in this full report.

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© 2015 Douglas LaBier

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