(Amy Cavenaile/The Washington Post; iStockphoto)

Evolutionary theory suggests ancient men attracted mates by besting rivals in displays of physical strength. Behavioral economists say some of this competitive compulsion lingers — but it comes now in the form of, say, flashing wealth (a Rolex on Tinder!) or embracing extremes, like: My way is the only way.

Hristina Nikolova, a marketing professor at Boston College, wanted to understand whether any old inclinations affect the way today’s men behave in decidedly more civil settings. So, she recruited college students with course credit and asked them to pick a grill.

The students' gender, she found, appeared to influence their willingness to compromise with each other on which grill to select.

Nikolova and her co-author, the University of Pittsburgh’s Cait Lamberton, split nearly 250 participants into five groups: male pairs, female pairs, mixed-gender pairs and lone men and women. They instructed the students to consider grills with different cooking areas and weight. Each participant ranked their preferences on a scale of one to seven. The individual respondents didn’t overwhelmingly favor one grill over another; neither gender seemed to gravitate toward one appliance.

However, a pattern emerged among the pairs. The female and gender-mixed groups generally found a compromise with their partner. Roughly 70 percent agreed to sacrifice their first choice to better meet their partner’s needs.

The male pairs, meanwhile, were much more likely to stick to their first choices. Just 40 percent opted to find middle ground.

“Men might be more attuned to the precarious nature of their masculinity when making decisions with other men than women,” the authors wrote in a new study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, “thus prompting them to engage in behaviors that prove their manhood to one another.”

In other words, guys may feel the need to project manliness to other guys. Maybe they’re not competing for a romantic partner, but the biological competitiveness could show up when they have to make a decision together.

"When making decisions together, men take actions that are maximally different from feminine norms, which prioritize moderation, and maximally similar to masculine norms, which prioritize extremity," the study noted.

In any case, why would the presence of women change their behavior?

"Only men judge other men very harshly when they suggest the compromise option to a male partner," Nikolova said, according to a news release. "It doesn't happen when a man suggests the compromise option to a female partner or when women suggest the compromise option. So it's really specific to men dealing with other men."

Beyond referencing our cave-man roots, Nikolova and Lamberton didn’t explain why men sticking to a first choice when interacting with other men is somehow related to masculinity. Stubbornness, of course, doesn’t indicate strength.

The authors acknowledge that rejecting compromise can be bad for business, though. Appealing to a variety of consumers requires hearing other people out.

This study has obvious limitations. Firstly, the sample was small and young. College men could be more headstrong than older adults who’d rather not fight over grill selection. Regardless, the compromise gender gap isn’t all that surprising. A national Pew Research last year found that 34 percent of Americans think female politicians are better at reaching compromises than their male counterparts. Only 9 percent said men were better.

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