Mid September, and the 2015 summer has not yet lost any of its intensity. But since summer vacations in Bulgaria are over, I should better stop wallowing in memories of mountains, sandy beaches and musical night life. I better try to see how much I can recall of the last things that happened in my lab before vacations.
There were a really remarkable two weeks with high school students who did a practical lab project here. They were Italians who attend the Munich European High School. These were 3 boys and 3 girls, and I thought to split them in two mixed groups, group 1 with two girls (Costanza and Julia) and 1 boy (Francesco), and group 2 vice-versa with two boys (Andrea and Guiseppe) and 1 girl (Antonia). They were given instructorial courses in cell and molecular biology, a bit about genetics and radiation-effects and cancer research, but half of the time they did hands-on work mainly on cell biology experiments. They were supposed to collect data in a systematic manner on stem-cells that grew over one week under the influence of an gamma-irradiation.
After a while, however, I more and more felt that the whole project was not with them as researchers and the cells in the incubator being the object of their research, but I understoud that I could equally consider the 6 students as objects of my (social-psychological) studies and myself (officially the supervisor) as the researcher. And I observed something that in the first instance started as an annoyance. Whereas teaching and working with group 1 (i.e. 2 girls + 1 boy) in the first week was extremely pleasant, having group 2 (i.e. 2 boys + 1 girl) in the second week appeared to be a nightmare. I first thought that maybe in the second week of the project group 2 was simply tired already, and therefore had a lower motivation, was unconcentrated and used every moment just to deviate and giggling and talking about teenager problems. But after talking to my colleagues who supervised group 2 in the first week it seemed that it had nothing to do with time, but there was a dramatic and lasting difference between the attitude towards science and learning between group 1 and group 2.
The three students in group 1 were always highly motivated throughout the entire 2 weeks, they were following the theoretical courses, liked to discuss and ask questions and worked very committed in the laboratory. The three students in group 2, however were almost the opposite: They were more bussy typing and receiving new status messages in their smart phones, used every moment for gossiping and I think they virtually did not learned anything from what I have shown them. It was a really annoyance, and I was close to send them home.
But since I am a scientist because of my never resting curiosity on all aspects of nature and life, I tried to find out the reason of this difference between the two groups of students. And than I observed something funny: In group 1 (2 girls and 1 boy), it were mainly the girls (Costanza and Julia) who played a very active and constructive role. They were asking questions, they were making suggestions and contributed their knowledge from school to the instructions I gave them. The boy in this group (Francesco) was less vivid, but concentrated and worked well in the lab. He was more the resting pole in the group, but obviously also had a stabilizing function. As a whole, this group 1 formed a perfect team, in terms of social interactions. There were the two girls who competed for the single boys attention by showing high committment, responsibility for the work program and constructive participation in the progress of their project.
In group 2 there was a lot of social interaction as well, maybe even more than in first group if one only measured it by their vocal intensity. But here the competition was done in another way. The two boys were the driving forces of all the unrest. The two (Andrea and Guiseppe) were trying to get the most attention from the single girl (Antonia) by showing her how "cool" they are, telling her in detail what crazy plans they had for the evening, how successful they have been in some computer games and on and on and on. But the sad thing was that Antonia (the object of their daylong performance) did not showed any sign of desinterest, rather she seemed to encourage the two teenage boys to fight harder for her attention.
I think that fighting for attention by the opposite sex is nothing bad, or to be denounced as contraprodictive. In opposite, it can be (and for sure always was in human history) a very productive motivation for good purposes. But the problem is which sex is fighting for attention, and what are the instruments they use:
If several woman are fighting for attention of a man, they usually do it by trying to outcompete one another with showing high commitment, organizational talent, taking challenging tasks and so on.
If several men are fighting of attention of only a few (or even a single) woman, than they do it too often by unpleasant and destructive activities. In the least disabiliting way, they do it by jumping up and down in front of the woman, like a clown or a rubble ball, and role their eyes and make funny faces. Their habit often reminds one of a typical fool, or somebody who is drunken. But in the worst case and in large groups, men try to fight for womans attention by showing their uncontrolled physical force, starting violent terror or war.
What is the conclusion from this observation ? That groups that socially interact should not consist of more men than woman. If you want to form a productive team, it is better to have a few men (forming the quiet poles) and more woman or girls (who try to perform better than the other). This gives stability and a excellent performance of the entire team.