04 Darwin_Evolve
Photo credit: http://darwinawards.com/

A new study published in the British Medical Journal titled “The Darwin Awards: Sex differences in idiotic behaviour” found marked sex differences in Darwin Award winners. Men were more likely than women to receive the award for “eliminat[ing] themselves from the gene pool in such an idiotic manner that their action ensures one less idiot will survive.”

In other words, a person who shoots himself in the head to show that a gun is loaded and dies, or a terrorist who sends a letter bomb with insufficient postage and then, upon its return, unthinkingly opens the letter and it explodes causing his death, might be eligible for the award.

The researchers reviewed data on the Darwin Award winners over a 20-year period (1995 to 2014) from the website DarwinAwards.Com.

The Darwin Awards are about idiotic risks.

Different from risks associated with adventurism or contact sports, idiotic risks involve “senseless risks where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final.” Thus, the nominations for the Darwin Awards go through a rigorous evaluation in terms of five criteria:

  1. Death – the candidate must be eliminated from the gene pool;
  2. Style – the candidate must show an astounding misapplication of common sense;
  3. Veracity – the event must be verified;
  4. Capability – the candidate must be capable of sound judgment;
  5. Self Selection – the candidate must be the cause of his or her own demise.

The researchers analyzed all verified nominations (n=332). They excluded nominations that were unverified or urban legends, as well as the ‘honorable mentions’ that were worthy in their own right but failed to eliminate the person from the gene pool. They also excluded the 14 awards given to “overly adventurous couples in compromising positions.” This left 318 valid cases for analysis.

Of the 318 Darwin Awards nominations in the analysis, an overwhelming majority (282) involved men, and only 36 involved women. The researchers concluded that the finding is consistent with male idiot theory, supporting their hypothesis that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.

The authors note limitations of the study such as possible selection bias (women more likely to nominate men for the award), reporting bias (male idiocy getting more media attention), or gender differences in alcohol use (with high alcohol use known to influence risky behavior). Yet the findings suggest too that “idiotic behaviour confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties.”

Could it be that bragging rights from idiotic behavior confer social status to some forms of normative masculinity? If so, male idiot theory certainly deserves further investigation.

A complete description of the research and its data can be found here.