Forget about Han Solo. Or Luke Skywalker. Or either of their modern equivalents — Finn and Poe. According to a new study, most men are just as likely to relate to Princess Leia (and/or Rey, her modern equivalent) than any of the space cowboys intended to capture their alpha brains.
Nathan Hook, a British researcher at the University of Tampere in Finland, asked 400 men and women to play a Star Wars game as both male and female characters and rate how closely they identified with each character. “The experiment found evidence that females identified more strongly with female characters than male characters as the hypothesis predicted, and the statistics showed this were significant,” Hook explains. “In contrast, males identified equally with male and female characters; very small differences were tested and found not statistically significant.”
According to The Daily Mail, on a scale with a maximum of seven points, men identified with female Jedi characters only 0.05 points lower than male Jedi characters, and for the Sith, they actually identified with female Sith characters more than male ones.
Though the numbers are unable to tell us why this is the case, Hook has a few theories. The first has to do with the fact that women remember female faces more than male faces, while men don’t have this same bias in facial recall. “To find a similar result in a completely different mental process (visual recall, rather than identification) implies some deeper mechanism is at play,” says Hook.
Another reason has to do with social identity theory, a set of well-established concepts about how people identify with groups and cause group conflict. Per Hook, this theory tells us that people generally favor strangers of their own “in-group” over strangers of other “out-groups.” “If we extend social identity theory from identifying as part of a group to identification with a character the results for females make sense — women identify more with their in-group and less with their out-group,” he explains.
The same, however, can’t be said of male psychology. In fact, research has found that men tend not to perceive their fellow man as an in-group. “Gender may simply be less important to men as a means of defining themselves — or perhaps they don’t assume fellow men are natural allies,” Hook says. “Hence, men lack this bias when relating to fictional characters. Men still favor their in-groups; they just don’t construct ‘men’ as a group.”
Hook also suggests that this all boils down to how men and women answer the question: Who am I? “Theory and evidence so far suggests that people generally identify more strongly with characters who have some of the same answers to that question as themselves, and identification is one factor — yet not the only one — that contributes to deriving enjoyment from such media.”
To that end, Hook tells me that he has no reason to suspect men are different in that regard, but he does think that identifying as “a man” probably isn’t a guy’s strongest or most important response. “Perhaps for that reason, the gender of a fictional character is less important to them,” says Hook.
Which leaves only one real question: Where do Wookiees fit into all of this?