Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but could these planetary metaphors also translate to differences in our human moral compass? An international team of researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, the University of Cologne in Germany, and the University of Texas in America, studied how men and women weigh moral dilemmas.

"Women seem to be more likely to have this negative, emotional, gut-level reaction to causing harm to people in the dilemmas, to the one person, whereas men were less likely to express this strong emotional reaction to harm," the study’s lead author Rebecca Friesdorf, a social psychology graduate student at Wilfried Laurier University, told NPR. "Women seem to be feeling more equal levels of both emotion and cognition. They seem to be experiencing similar levels of both, so it's more difficult for them to make their choice."

The research team analyzed 40 data sets from various studies, which was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and found when participants were presented with 10 different hypothetical dilemmas their answers depended on their gender. Every dilemma presented two different scenarios for the person to weigh out with a cost-benefit analysis. It turns out, after studying 6,000 participants’ responses, men and women both calculated consequences, such as how many lives would be lost by their decision. But women were confronted with their own emotional responses to how it would feel to — as one of the dilemmas presents — kill Hitler to save millions of persecuted lives.

Out of all of the dilemmas, Friesdorf found the “Hard Times” dilemma, the most interesting one to measure an individual’s moral compass. Give it a try and see how a scientist would evaluate your moral compass:

You are the head of a poor household in a developing country. Your crops have failed for the second year in a row, and it appears that you have no way to feed your family. Your sons, ages 8 and 10, are too young to go off to the city where there are jobs, but your daughter could fare better.

You know a man from your village who lives in the city and who makes sexually explicit films featuring girls such as your daughter. In front of your daughter, he tells you that in one year of working in his studio, your daughter could earn enough money to keep your family fed for several growing seasons.

Is it appropriate for you to employ your daughter in the pornography industry in order to feed your family?

There were very few people who said they would sacrifice their daughter’s virtue for the sake of the rest of their family, according to Friesdorf. Women had a much more difficult time grappling between the two circumstances. They weighed out their interpretation on what will create benefit or cause harm, and compared it to the rest of society’s moral definitions.

Philosophers would consider people who sacrifice their daughters as utilitarian, which means they operate for the common good, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Meanwhile, those who would protect their daughter in lieu of financial stability would be considered deontologists, who focus on the rightness or wrongness of actions based on morality and adherence to rules. Now that you’ve read the scenario yourself, which category do you fit into?

Source: Friesdorf R, Conway P, and Gawronski B. Gender Differences in Responses to Moral Dilemmas: A Process Dissociation Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2015.