Friday, June 3, 2011

On ‘Jeopardy!’ Women Take Fewer Risks vs. Men

June 2, 2011

A study of contestant behavior on the popular game show “Jeopardy!” suggests women tend to hedge their bets when facing male opponents.

The answer is: It’s a game show that provides surprising clues about sex, social rules and risk-taking.

And the question is: What is Jeopardy!?

Two Swedish researchers, writing in the journal Economics Letters, report an intriguing pattern of behavior by contestants on the popular quiz program. Women, it seems, take fewer risks when their Jeopardy! opponents are men.

Gabriella Sjogren Lindquist and Jenny Save-Soderbergh of the Swedish Institute for Social Research looked at 206 episodes of Jeopardy!, focusing on those moments when one of the three contestants must decide how much to wage on a Daily Double.

For those unfamiliar with the Jeopardy!, Daily Doubles pop up at random during the course of play. Rather than wagering a set amount on whether they will know the answer to a question (the show’s usual format), contestants are given the opportunity to bet as much or as little as they like, up to the amount of money they have accumulated to that point.

The researchers tallied the results of 615 Daily Doubles, featuring 251 male and 65 female contestants. (The same contestant can play several Daily Doubles during the course of the show, and still more if he or she wins and returns the next day.)

The researchers found “no systemic gender differences in performance,” either on the Daily Double questions or the final scores. But they also determined that “male players are more likely to give the correct answer when competing against males only.” Perhaps man-to-man competition, which played a vital role in our evolutionary past, sharpens the male mind.

Most intriguingly, the researchers found females “apply a more conservative wagering strategy” when their two opponents are both male. Compared to instances when they’re up against two women, or a man and a woman, “Women wager 25 percent less of their accumulated score on average” when they’re competing against two men.

“Men do not display this behavior,” they add.


Read the Paper

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