Gender differences in emotional responses to cooperative and competitive game play

PLoS One. 2014 Jul 1;9(7):e100318. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0100318. eCollection 2014.


Previous research indicates that males prefer competition over cooperation, and it is sometimes suggested that females show the opposite behavioral preference. In the present article, we investigate the emotions behind the preferences: Do males exhibit more positive emotions during competitive than cooperative activities, and do females show the opposite pattern? We conducted two experiments where we assessed the emotional responses of same-gender dyads (in total 130 participants, 50 female) during intrinsically motivating competitive and cooperative digital game play using facial electromyography (EMG), skin conductance, heart rate measures, and self-reported emotional experiences. We found higher positive emotional responses (as indexed by both physiological measures and self-reports) during competitive than cooperative play for males, but no differences for females. In addition, we found no differences in negative emotions, and heart rate, skin conductance, and self-reports yielded contradictory evidence for arousal. These results support the hypothesis that males not only prefer competitive over cooperative play, but they also exhibit more positive emotional responses during them. In contrast, the results suggest that the emotional experiences of females do not differ between cooperation and competition, which implies that less competitiveness does not mean more cooperativeness. Our results pertain to intrinsically motivated game play, but might be relevant also for other kinds of activities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Electromyography
  • Emotions*
  • Face
  • Female
  • Game Theory
  • Gender Identity*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Report
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior

Grant support

This study was partly supported by Finnish graduate school for User-Centered Technology. Experiment 1 of this research was funded by EU under the project “FUGA,” Contract Number NEST-PATH-028765, and Experiment 2 was funded by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (, grant “Next Media”, Decision Number 425/10. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.