Gender Differences in Help-seeking Patterns in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
ESTEVEZ, P. -. (2001). Gender Differences in Help-seeking Patterns in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Gender Differences in Help-seeking Patterns in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
This study examined the relationship between gender and help-seeking patterns. 10 male and 5 female contestants from past, taped episodes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire were observed and their answers to questions on the game show were recorded. Sex of the contestants was the independent variable and help-seeking patterns, whether or not a contestant used a lifeline to help answer a question, were the dependent variable. Using a self-constructed data sheet, found in Appendix A, the help-seeking patterns were recorded. We predicted that females would ask for help first before men. The results of the study did not support the hypothesis. There was no significant gender difference found between makes and females and help-seeking behaviors.

Men and women are daily faced with situations in which they are required or expected to seek help. For example, getting lost on their way to a person’s birthday party in an unfamiliar area of town would usually call for the driver or passenger to ask someone on the street for directions. By social stereotype, women tend to ask for help when seeking these solutions and answers, whereas men will tend to put off asking for help, finding solutions and answers themselves. Whether or not a person asks for help in the game show would be a basis for determining their attitude on help seeking in a given situation.Past research indicates that women are more comfortable asking for help or seeking out psychological help than men (Johnson, 1988). Male and female college students were given tests in the form of questionnaires to determine their sex roles as well at their attitudes towards seeking psychological help. The researcher came to the conclusion that women and those participants whose sex roles were feminine had more positive attitudes towards psychological help. They also were more comfortable recognizing the need for help and acting on that need to find help. These participants were more confident with a professional’s skill with helping the participant (Johnson, 1988). In addition, according to Tannen (1994), females have been found to be more cooperative, making suggestions and agreeing with others, whereas males have been found to be more competitive, making demands and arguing with others. Some evidence also exists that females make more cooperative interruptions than men, who are more likely to interrupt to dominate a conversation (James and Clarke, 1993). The use of indirectness in conversation is stereotyped as a female characteristic. Indirectness is not being straightforward in conversation. So females are stereotyped to not be straightforward about what they want out of a conversation. However, findings suggest that indirectness is actually a trait associated with power, which is stereotyped as a male characteristic (Tannen, 1994). Using indirectness in conversation demonstrates power because a command never had to be made. Only one’s preference had to be insinuated for another to act upon it (Tannen, 1994). For example, a person’s statement “It’s cold in here” may influence another person to turn on the heater. Another study included Johnson’s gender differences in counseling situations where help seeking was expressed verbally (Flowers and Whelan, 1977). The study states that women rely more on others to help them while men are more independent, making decisions on their own. Females are more likely than men to ask personal information-seeking questions as well (Flowers and Whelan, 1977). During face-to-face interactions, females are more interpretive than men, and question more often with information-seeking responses. As in the study by Johnson (1988), Flowers and Whelan (1977) discovered that females were more comfortable seeking help for their problems and actually opening themselves to speak about their problems than males. A suggestion made to justify this sex difference is that males may seem more troubled than a female when seeking help (Flowers and Whelan, 1977). Tannen (1993) states that males and females differ in conflict resolution with females focusing more on maintaining the relationship and males focusing more on their individuality. Tannen’s studies were performed with preschool children. Females were found to value interdependence, affiliation and involvement. In contrast, males valued independence, self-assertion, and detachment (Tannen, 1993). A surprising observation found by Bryan (1997) was that male and female stereotypes were present in cartoons. Male cartoons greatly outnumbered female cartoons and tended to be the center of attention. These findings were consistent with those from a 1970 study stating that male characters outnumbered female cartoon characters by a four to one ratio (Bryan, 1997). This is important because stereotypes exist in the media, a large part of communication in our world. These studies gave us a basis for our research. We varied the past studies, however. Our study examined the patterns of women and men when seeking help in solving problems and answering questions. The televisions game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, presents its contestants with fifteen questions per round. All questions are followed with four possible answers in multiple-choice forms. Each question increases in difficulty. A monetary award also increases with each advance to the next question. Who Wants to be a Millionaire provides each contestant with three chances to use outside help, called lifelines, for answering questions. These lifelines include, “Ask the audience,” where the contestant polls the audience for the answer to the question. The “50/50” option allows the four choices, leaving a 50% chance of guessing the correct answer. “Phone a friend,” allows the contestant to call a friend, ask him/her the question with the multiple-choice answers, and the friend answers the question for the contestant.The past studies answered the question of whether female or males ask for help first in a given situation. However, none of the studies addressed whether asking questions is not a more effective communication strategy for females than for males, nor did they address what kind of help is sought out first by women as compared to men. The different kinds of help as defined in this study were impersonal, anonymous, and personal. Impersonal help was be choosing to use the “50/50” option in Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Anonymous help was that of using the “Ask the audience” option. Personal help was that of using the “Phone the friend” option where the contestant asks usually a close friend or relative to aid him/her in answering a question. Through archival research, watching past tapings of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, we studied whether females or males asked for help first and what kind of help was first utilized. This study also recorded the hometown of each contestant. People living in different environments may have different definitions for certain terms, possibly influencing the contestants’ decisions. Further, all questions were categorized into groups of history, sports, entertainment, geography, science and nature, and current events. It was hypothesized that during the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, women would have sought help through lifelines first, as well as utilized their “Phone a friend” option before men. Variables that were tested are what lifeline was used at a particular time. The experimenters were looking for the influence of the following subject variables: sex, hometown, lifelines used, level of difficulty of question that the lifeline was used for; the question the lifeline was used for, the category of the question, and monetary awards.

Participants We used 15 contestants, 10 male and 5 female from. Most of the participants ranged in age from early twenties to early fifties, and came from various parts of the country, which was specified at the beginning of the show.Materials The only materials used in this study were 5 recorded past episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a television with a VCR, and a self-constructed data sheet to record observations. Each episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire began with about ten contestants who were all asked the same question. Whoever answered the question the fastest was chosen to participate in the actual game of questions and answers to win one million dollars. Each episode lasts one hour, allowing for a total of about three contestants per show. The contestants were neither timed, nor were they pressured to answer a question before being certain about their answer. There were commercial advertisements in between contestants.Design and Procedure This study had an archival design, which used past taped episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The show’s contestants served as participants and were not affected by our study. Therefore, there was no need for obtaining informed consent from participants, nor was there need for a debriefing session after the study was completed. Five episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire were recorded. Each contestant from each of the recorded episodes was observed for various variables on his or her help-seeking patterns. Our study was also quasi-experimental with the independent variable as the subject variable sex. Sex cannot be manipulated, making our study quasi-experimental. The dependent variables were what kind of help was sought, whether impersonal, anonymous, or personal, as well as when the lifeline was used, whether women sought help before men or not. Keeping the contestants as ordinary people, omitting those episodes that included celebrities as contestants, controlled our study. In addition, the researchers conducted the study together, using the same data sheet, at the same time, therefore, increasing inter-rater reliability. The celebrities are playing for charities when they appear on the show, and therefore, are allowed to cheat. This definitely would have contaminated our results. The following variables were examined and recorded for possible influence: sex of the contestant, contestant’s hometown, lifelines used, level of difficulty of question that the lifeline was used for, the question the lifeline was used for, the category of the question, and monetary awards. The contestant’s hometown may have had possible influence on the contestant’s decisions when answering the questions because various areas of the country have diverse meanings and slang for certain words and phrases possibly mentioned in a question on the show. The lifelines used included “Ask the audience,” “50/50,” and “Phone a Friend.” The “Ask the Audience” option was labeled as ‘anonymous’ because the majority of the audience in a game show is usually completely unrelated to the contestant. The “50/50” option was labeled as ‘impersonal’ because the contestant does not interact with a human being when utilizing this lifeline. Finally, the “Phone a friend” option was labeled as ‘personal’ because the contestant verbally expresses the need for help. All questions asked on the show were categorized under history, sports, entertainment, geography, science and nature, and current events.The researchers first watched each episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. During each episode, each contestant during that show was observed for the above influential variables. Using a self-constructed data sheet, the researchers recorded each contestant’s gender, hometown, at what question the lifeline was used at, the category of the question, whether or not the question was correct, and the highest monetary award achieved. This procedure was repeated to double-check the recorded observations. With these recordings, the researchers will compare and contrast the gender differences when lifelines were used and which ones were used, as well as determining the influence of the several variables mentioned above.

The purpose of our study was to find gender differences in help-seeking behaviors in the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. We looked for significant differences between gender and when the help was sought. The relationship between sex and the earliest that help-seeking behavior occurred was not significant. The males (M=9.74, SD=2.57) and females (M=9.02, SD=2.58) did not differ significantly on the level at which they first used their lifelines t(13)=5.11, p=.618 (two-tailed). There was no significant difference between gender and the type of help sought out first. The males (M=11.14, SD=1.35) and females (M=9.575, SD=2.14) did not differ significantly on whether the “Phone a friend” lifeline was used before the “Ask the Audience” and “50/50” lifelines t(11)=1.63, p=.131 (two-tailed). On the whole, there was no significant difference found between gender and help-seeking behavior concerning the contestants of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. However, the total number of male contestants was the number of female contestants, a ratio of 2:1. But this did not have a noteworthy difference in the monetary awards won by males (M=92,900, SD=88,150) and females (M=52,200, SD=45,300). The difference was not statistically significant t(13)=.958, p=.355 (two-tailed). In addition, there was no significant difference t(13)=1.10, p=.290 (two-tailed) in the level of difficulty reached by males (M=11.70, SD=1.25) and that reached by females (M=10.80, SD=1.92).

The original hypothesis was not supported by the results because no significant difference existed in help seeking patterns between genders. There was no gender difference in who sought out help earlier. Not only was there no significant difference between sex and the level at which a lifeline was used, but also, there was no significant difference between sex and which specific lifeline was used earlier. In addition, there was no significant difference between sex and monetary awards. Our study’s findings were inconsistent with Johnson’s (1988), who found that women were more comfortable seeking out help. Based on this, we hypothesized that women would use their lifelines before men would, but we were wrong. In Johnson’s study, however, the participants were seeking psychological help, while in our study, the contestants sought out help from other people to answer questions. Psychological help is a serious issue in a person’s life, whereas a game show serves as entertainment. The risks people are willing to take in a game show are higher than those when seeking real, professional help because the game show holds trivial value. Another study conducted by Flowers and Whelan (1977) found that males are independent than females making decisions. Based on this, we hypothesized that female contestants would have utilized their “Phone a friend” lifeline before the male contestants. However, we found that when females and males used this lifeline was about the same. A possibility for this could be the presence of a common goal: the monetary awards. Both genders may have adjusted their behavior because of the desire to attain this goal. This study had a few shortcomings. First, only 15 contestants were studied due to the difficulty we had in obtaining episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. These faults may have altered the results of the study because the sample size was not large enough to determine whether there was a relationship between gender and help-seeking patterns. The distribution between male and female contestants was not even. In the future, having a larger sample size, with a more equal distribution of males and females, may produce results that more closely support our hypothesis. Researchers may want to contact the television network to obtain more episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Our study had some strength in reliability. Both researchers watched the episodes together and recorded their observations using their self-constructed data sheet, increasing inter-rater reliability. Our simple procedure would be easy for future researchers to replicate. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was found to be a fair game show because no significant difference was found between gender and the amount of money awarded. There are differences in communication skills between males and females. Future studies may provide insight into these differences and may help us to understand each other better, creating a less stereotypical communication world.

Bryan, C. A. (1997, August 17). Cartoons still stereotype gender roles: Males portrayed as doctors and scientists, females as nurses and bathing beauties. Retrieved November 1, 2001, from, J. V. & Whelan, C. K. (1977). Effect of role and gender mix on verbal communication modes. Journal of Counseling Psychology,24(4), 281-287.James, D. & Clarke, S. (1993). Women, men and interruptions: A critical review [Review of published journal articles appearing between 1965 and 1991 dealing with gender differences and the use of interruption] 231-269.Johnson, M. E. (1988). Influences of gender and sex role orientation on help-seeking attitudes. The Journal of Psychology,122(3), 237-241.Tannen, D. (1994). Gender and discourse. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.Tannen, D. (1993). Gender and Conversational Interaction. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Sample data sheetSex: Tape #: Hometown: Award: L.L. Used Question Category Correct Incorrect1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Submitted 12/17/2001 1:59:51 PM
Last Edited 1/3/2002 12:38:19 PM
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