Men may have become less willing to engage in physically challenging activities over the past 35 years, according to a meta-analysis of studies on sensation-seeking, published in the journal Scientific Reports. The findings support the argument that some sex differences in behaviour have declined in response to recent cultural changes.
Sensation-seeking is a personality trait reflecting the desire to pursue novel or intense experiences, even if risks are involved. In the late 1970s, men were more likely than women to say that they would like to try parachuting or mountaineering. However, over the past decades, men’s thrill- and adventure-seeking scores have declined, and average male scores are now more similar to average female scores.
Kate Cross and colleagues suggest that the decline in the sex differences in thrill- and adventure-seeking could reflect declines in average fitness, which might have reduced people’s interest in physically challenging activities. Alternatively, the questions could now be out-of-date; for example, skiing may no longer be viewed as a novel activity.
The study also showed that sex differences in other measures have not changed across time; for example, men consistently report higher average scores than women for disliking dull or repetitive activities. These stable sex differences could reflect predispositions that favour novelty-seeking in men, in combination with social factors that value greater risk-taking in men than in women.