Like low-status Neanderthals, contemporary men who aren't exactly winners—literally, when it comes to playing video games—are more likely to harass women online, new research cited in the Washington Post finds. Scientists who conducted the study published in Plos One played 163 games of Halo as either male-voiced players or female-voiced players (82 female, 81 male) with remote teammates and opponents. The study gauged a remote player's skill by measuring such factors like kills and deaths. Researchers found men were typically cordial to players they believed to be male, and that more skilled men who kicked first-shooter butt were less likely to direct negative comments toward female-voiced players than their less skilled male counterparts. But lamer players tended to take their frustrations out on female players with more frequent, caustic comments.
A lead author notes that gaming provides the perfect breeding ground for this kind of behavior: After all, the Post notes, players can remain anonymous, they may never run into an online teammate or opponent again, and it's a significantly male-biased recreation. Females threaten gamers' "pre-existing social hierarchy"; the guys at the bottom of the virtual totem pole feel threatened and therefore become more threatening to those they think they can quash the easiest. "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," the study notes. Such gamer communities mirror male-dominated industries—such as engineering or the tech field—and may promote sexist actions in real life, scientists warn.