A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business finds that the emboldening of the extreme right that helped Donald Trump win the presidency has altered social norms. Part of that shift reflects an increase in men acting more aggressively toward women.
To explain, the researchers noted that such groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have found an uptick of hate crimes and harassment taking place across the country. The rise of such incidents led Wharton researchers to examine whether a dimension of that might be found in differences in communications styles of men and women; for example, if their negotiation tactics changed – both before and after the election – depending on which gender they interact with.
Their experiments found a striking result: Post-election, male study participants were less cooperative, more likely to use adversarial strategies and less likely to reach an agreement with a partner. “We didn’t know Trump was going to be elected; we didn’t set out to study Trump’s election,” according to lead researcher Corinne Low. “We had the [lab experiment] sessions on the calendar already, and post-election, we looked at the data and saw that people’s behavior was profoundly different.”
“It appears that whatever Trump represents – that rhetorical style, that presence – seems to have consequences for other people’s behaviors.” Before the election, men were less likely to use aggressive negotiation tactics when they knew their partner was a woman – a pattern that could be classified as chivalry or a kind of “benevolent sexism,” Low says. “This tells us that if women’s outcomes are dependent on men’s whims, those whims could change. We could see the turning of the tide, and suddenly men are more aggressive.”
The experiments involved playing a “Battle of the Sexes” game in which men and women had to divide $20 with a partner. In some cases, participants were told the gender of their partner; in other cases, that information wasn’t provided. Each round had only two options for splitting the money: One partner would get $15 and the other would get $5, or vice versa; or, if they couldn’t agree, both would walk away with zero.
The researchers pointed out that previous studies suggest that political and world events can affect people’s behavior, including their displays of generosity, cooperation and fairness. “It appears that whatever Trump represents – that rhetorical style, that presence – seems to have consequences for other people’s behaviors,” Low says.
Many human rights and social justice groups have observed a spike in anti-Semitism and hate crimes following the election. “That’s anecdotal evidence that words matter,” Low says, “and what we have is lab evidence that this matters.”