Sex differences in mortality and admissions to hospital emergency departments have been well documented,1 2 3 4 56 7 and hypotheses put forward to account for these differences. These studies confirm that males are more at risk than females. Males are more likely to be admitted to an emergency department after accidental injuries, more likely to be admitted with a sporting injury, and more likely to be in a road traffic collision with a higher mortality rate.1 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Some of these differences may be attributable to cultural and socioeconomic factors: males may be more likely to engage in contact and high risk sports, and males may be more likely to be employed in higher risk occupations. However, sex differences in risk seeking behaviour have been reported from an early age, raising questions about the extent to which these behaviours can be attributed purely to social and cultural differences.10 11 12
However, there is a class of risk—the “idiotic” risk—that is qualitatively different from those associated with, say, contact sports or adventure pursuits such as parachuting. Idiotic risks are defined as senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final.
According to “male idiot theory” (MIT) many of the differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency department admissions, and mortality may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.16There are anecdotal data supporting MIT, but to date there has been no systematic analysis of sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. In this paper we present evidence in support of this hypothesis using data on idiotic behaviours demonstrated by winners of the Darwin Award.17 18 19 20 21
I'd never heard of Male Idiot Theory, but a more perfect acronym couldn't be imagined. The conclusion of this piece is perfect and makes me wonder why more research papers aren't written with such a wonderful sense of humor.
Northcutt invokes a group selectionist, “survival of the species” argument, with individuals selflessly removing themselves from the gene pool. We believe this view to be flawed, but we do think this phenomenon probably deserves an evolutionary explanation. Presumably, idiotic behaviour confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties. Until MIT gives us a full and satisfactory explanation of idiotic male behaviour, hospital emergency departments will continue to pick up the pieces, often literally.
We believe MIT 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.
I once read a paper about why males are disproportionately represented among alcoholics, criminals (and thus the prison population), the homeless, drug users. The theory is that society requires some of its citizens to be the risk-takers who achieve great advances for society but who must also bear the brunt of the resultant high rate of failure. For some reason, society nominated males to be those risk-takers and thus they're disproportionately represented both among revolutionaries and the fallen.
Does anyone know what paper I'm referring to? I recollect writing about that piece but now I can't find it in my archive or via Google. I know it's online somewhere, it was a great read.