The Male Idiot Theory

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Another skillful remark on the topic of brain health.

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Yes, that’s a thing.

According to hospital emergency departments and mortality stats, men are far likelier than women to experience accidental and sporting injuries, as well as traffic collisions with higher chance of death. Although cultural and socioeconomical factors can partially explain this difference in injury frequency, i.e. men are more often employed in higher risk jobs, the observation that males frequently engage in “idiotic risk” – that is, senseless risk without any apparent payoff – suggests that something else is at play.

The Male Idiotic Theory (MIT) stipulates that the reason men are more prone to injury and death is simply because they “are idiots and idiots do stupid things“. Despite tons of anecdotal evidence confirming MIT (you probably know a guy or two who fits the bill), there’s never been a systematic analysis on sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. Until now.

In a new study published in BMJ, researchers obtained 20 years worth of data from the Darwin Awards to tally up the sex of each year’s winner. For those not in the know, the Darwin Awards are given to people who die in such astonishingly stupid ways that “their action ensures the long-term survival of the species, by selectively allowing one less idiot to survive”. Nominations are rigorously evaluated according to five selection criteria – death, style, veracity, capability and self selection – to ensure the award is only given to the most worthy candidates. Take, for example, two drunken friends who willingly placed themselves on the path of a coming train in front of a crowd as they believed the train would simply pass over them. It did not. (If you haven’t read some of the winner’s bios yet, stop reading and go check it out!)

As you can see from the graph below, men made up a staggering 88.7% of Darwin Award winners in 318 examined cases. In other words, the data fits the theory – men far more likely to be idiots.

F1.mediumThe authors acknowledge that their sample may be a little skewed because of selection or reporting bias, but points out that the result clearly demonstrates a sex difference in idiotic risk taking. “It is puzzling that males are willing to take such unnecessary risks—simply as a rite of passage, in pursuit of male social esteem, or solely in exchange for ‘bragging rights’.” the authors mused in writing, “presumably, idiotic behaviour confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties.”

With the holiday festivities coming up and plenty of alcohol to go around, the authors are excited to continue their study observing men and women “in a semi-naturalistic Christmas party setting”. So everyone please have fun, enjoy yourselves, and don’t become a data point :p.

Ben Alexander, Daniel Lendrem, Dennis William Lendrem, Andy Gray, & John Dudley Isaacs (2014). The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour BMJ


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