A PLOS ONE study examining the behavior of Halo 3 gamers, published July 15, found something that should ironically be somewhat unsurprising: Men who harass women during the game are more likely to be terrible at the actual game. Put differently, those who troll women are, quite literally, losers.
Michael Kasumovic of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and Jeffrey Kuznekoff of Miami University in Ohio hypothesized when women enter and disrupt a male-dominated hierarchy, it leads to "hostile behavior from poor performing males who stand to lose the most status," according to their study. "To test this hypothesis, we used an online first-person shooter video game that removes signals of dominance but provides information on gender, individual performance and skill."
Kasumovic and Kuznekoff found men who performed poorly were submissive to other men who demonstrated superior gaming skills, but abusive to women who demonstrated the same gaming superiority.
"We suggest that low-status males increase female-directed hostility to minimize the loss of status as a consequence of hierarchical reconfiguration resulting from the entrance of a woman into the competitive arena," the researchers wrote. Conversely, successful male gamers were more likely to be positive and complimentary toward their female counterparts given these men were less threatened by the presence of women, the study found.
Three components of Halo 3 make it an ideal proxy for examining behavior in the real world, Kasumovic told the Washington Post: the anonymity and lack of accountability within the game; players are likely to encounter each other briefly, but never cross paths again; the sex ratio is strongly in favor of men, making it historically comparable to the workforce gender balance.
The researchers suggest evolutionary factors are at play in those men who harass women. "As men often rely on aggression to maintain their dominant social status, the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female's performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank," Kasumovic and Kuznekoff write.
So, until underperforming men can slough of their evolutionary insecurity, online harassment is perhaps more a comment on them than on women. In the meantime, losers are losers.