Sex Difference in Competitiveness – Author Interview

by | Apr 21, 2015 | Interviews

Today we published “Does the sex difference in competitiveness decrease in selective sub-populations? A test with intercollegiate distance runners”. In this blog post, author Robert O. Deaner, and his colleagues discuss the results of a study on sex differences in competitiveness.

PJ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

RD: I’m an associate professor of psychology at Grand Valley State University. GVSU is a large liberal arts university near Grand Rapids, Michigan, and it focuses on undergraduate teaching. So although I enjoy conducting research, my main job is teaching. I teach classes on research methods, sex differences, and evolutionary psychology. One of the most satisfying parts of teaching is getting undergraduates involved in research. In fact, this project began as Eric Saksa’s (4th author) senior honors project. Away from the university, I spend a lot of time watching and doing sports, especially distance running.

Deaner Robert headshot

PJ: Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?

RD: We emailed collegiate varsity distance runners from across the U.S., and we asked them to complete an online survey. We asked them about their training, their motivation, and their performance. We also asked about their injuries, their academic commitment, and other things that might have affected their running. Over 1,100 runners participated. The main findings were that, compared to women, men reported being more competitive, training more, and wanting to train more. The women, by contrast, reported greater commitment to their studies. The most important finding was that these sex differences were just as large among the faster as among the slower runners. Even when we examined the responses from the very best female athletes, the ones who had full scholarships and realistic professional prospects, they were still quite different than their male counterparts.

PJ: What surprised you the most with these results?

RD: We were pleasantly surprised that over 1,100 busy student-athletes took 15-20 minutes to do our survey for free! I think this reflects that most distance runners love to talk and write about their training and performance. We’ve done surveys with athletes doing different sports, and we’ve never had a response like that.

Sex differences in competitiveness and training volume as a function of 5000 m performance quartile

Sex differences in competitiveness and training volume as a function of 5000 m performance quartile

PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

RD: Respecting diversity means that we shouldn’t expect or demand that men and women are the same in every way. In our study, men and women had, on average, different motivations. Men were somewhat more committed to their running and women were somewhat more committed to their studies. This doesn’t mean men are better, and it doesn’t mean women better. They’re just different, and that’s okay.

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here?

RD: We’ve been studying sex differences in sports motivation in other sports and also what causes these differences. Some of that work is complete, but more will be coming in the next few years.

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

RD: I don’t recall when I first heard about PeerJ, but I’ve been involved for a while. My GVSU colleague, Mike Lombardo, and I published an article with PeerJ last summer, and we had a great experience in all respects. The review process was speedy and helpful, the production was great, and plenty of scientists and journalists noticed our work. I’m a big believer in open access, and I’m convinced that PeerJ does it best. I believe in the journal so much that I’m now serving as an editor too.

PJ: How would you describe your experience of our submission/review process?

RD: The submission process was smooth and the reviews were fast, fair, and constructive. We also love that, upon publication, the whole review process can become publicly visible and transparent.

PJ: Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit? 

RD: I anticipate publishing many more papers with PeerJ, and I have recommended it my colleagues. I’ve even posted PeerJ flyers on my office door.

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