Gender Differences in Help Seeking Behavior 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:
ROSSITTO, A. L. (2001). Gender Differences in Help Seeking Behavior in `who Wants to Be a Millionaire`. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Gender Differences in Help Seeking Behavior in `who Wants to Be a Millionaire`

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
The purpose of this research was to explore whether gender differences existed in help seeking behavior in the television show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” What level a lifeline was used represented how early a contestant was willing to ask for help and which lifeline was chosen represented the type of the help that was preferred by the contestant. To measure whether there were gender differences between these variables, episodes of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” were watched by the experimenters and information from 15 participants (10 males and 5 females) was recorded. The results showed no significant differences in help seeking behaviors between males and females. Ideas for future research are discussed later.

Every day men and women are confronted with identical problems like how to get to the store. The way they go about solving these problems can be totally different. For example, when looking for a store, a woman may be more prone to call a friend and ask for directions, while a man may stubbornly drive around for hours until he finally arrives at the store. These differences in the ways in which males and females solve problems have lead to much confusion. Simply stated, neither side thinks like the other, nor understands how or why they think that way. Many studies have been conducted in attempts to clarify this gap between the sexes, and most have found that the differences stem from one main idea: Different languages exist between men and women (Sachs, 2001). This dilemma was escalated by the stereotypes produced by our societies and our communication styles (Sachs, 2001), both of which worked together to increase the distances and differences in help seeking behavior between genders. Men and women were born into the same world, but from the beginning society showed us different ways to live (Sachs, 2001). We were taught ideas about ourselves and others regarding the ways we should act and think, which were often referred to as stereotypes (Tannen, 1993). Women like to gossip and men like to talk about sports were examples of stereotypes that appeared in our everyday view so often that we just began to accept them without question, which could have both positive and negative effects (Wisch, Mahalik, Hayes, & Nutt, 1995). In a recent study, researchers attempted to discover the influence these positive and negative sides of stereotypes had on males regarding their help seeking behavior (Wisch et al., 1995). They hypothesized that men who accepted the traditional male role with its restrictions on the display of emotion and affectionate behavior among men would be less likely to seek psychological help (Wisch et al., 1995). The researchers first surveyed the men to see how strongly they believed in the traditional male gender role, and then observed them to discover how much time would need to elapse and what circumstances would have to be present for the men to seek psychological help. The results not only confirmed their original ideas, but also found that men who strongly believed in their gender roles felt uncomfortable even witnessing another male weakly express his feelings to a psychologist (Wisch et al., 1995).If society helped produce different stereotypes, then stereotypes helped produce different communication styles. Researchers say that we spend 70 percent of our awake time communicating, and 30 percent of our communication is talking (Sachs, 2001, p.1). For men, this talking time was usually defined as report, with the purpose of information. Conversations usually included minimal, direct facts that had a goal in mind. Women, on the other hand, usually talked using rapport, with the purpose of connection. A conversational piece was more often a person than an object with the attempt of effecting relationships (Sachs, 2001). To document how these communication variations played into help seeking behavior, a researcher gave preschoolers puzzles and recorded their reactions (Thompson, 1999). He found that boys used more object-orientated language, and girls used more self-orientated language (Thompson, 1999). As expected, the study also showed that the girls asked for help significantly more than the boys. Two other very interesting discoveries were made. The boys requested assistance less than the girls, but the rate at which they did increased greatly as the difficulty of the tasks increased. Also, even with the differences in help seeking behavior, the average boy and girl had extremely close finish times for the puzzles (Thompson, 1999).These studies, along with our knowledge of society, stereotypes, and communication styles, helped explain and support the differences between males and females when it came to help seeking behavior. The most obvious form of help seeking behavior was asking questions. It has been documented on many occasions that women were more willing to seek help on anything from directions to interior designing (Thompson, 1999). In fact, women asked questions nearly twice as much as men did during an average conversation (Tannen, 1994). For women, though, this was socially acceptable and normal since they used questioning as a connection rather than a tool. Men, on the other hand, were supposed to be the independent ones, so they asked less questions because their public faces were important to them (Tannen, 1999).We have substantial amounts of information on stereotypes and communication ranging across different times and different cultures. Regarding help seeking behavior, many studies have been done like the previously discussed ones on preschoolers and males. But, to better complete psychological knowledge of the way we work, more modern studies need to be conducted comparing adult men and adult women and their differences in help seeking behavior. This more modern research is especially important since we are in an era where society and stereotypes that define communication styles are rapidly changing.In this study, we attempted to look at gender differences in help seeking behavior. We did an archival study using episodes of the primetime show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” This research expanded on past studies because it not only compared adult men and women, but did so using an entirely distinct and modern tool (“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”) that reflects where our society is today in its technology and goals. Our study went a step further than putting together a puzzle. Because we did archival research, we were able to carefully review and document this help seeking behavior on charts that noted sex, hometown, which lifelines they used on which questions, how far they went, and how much money they won. Based on all the research on society, stereotypes, and communication styles in reference to help seeking behavior, we expected that women would use their lifelines earlier and be more likely to phone a friend first, while men would use their lifelines later and be more likely to use the 50/50 and poll the audience first.


The participants were 40 contestants, 20 males and 20 females, that we watched on the television show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” These contestants were all above the age of eighteen, usually ranging from mid 20s to mid 40s. Our research was slightly biased in the fact that the contestants who played had to be intelligent in order to even appear on the show. We had no control over this, though, since the screening was conducted by the television network before the contestants participated in the show. Besides the intelligence factor, the contestants were all average people. In other words, no celebrities were included in our study. We omitted them because they were playing for charities, and therefore allowed to cheat. This cheating would inevitably affect the use of their lifelines, and, in the end, contaminate our results.

The materials used were 15 episodes of the television show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and a chart we designed. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was a game show where the contestants answered a series of questions in an attempt to win 1 million dollars. The questions escalated in difficulty and the amounts of money they were worth. Along with each question came 4 multiple-choice answers. In case the contestant did not know the answer, they were provided with 3 lifelines (50/50, ask the audience, and phone a friend) to assist them. Our other main material was the chart we constructed. At the top of the page on the left side were blanks for the sex of the contestant, their name, and their hometown. At the top on the right side were blanks for the tape number (for organizational purposes) and the amount of money the contestant won. The bottom half of the page contained a chart with numbers 1-15 down the left side, which represented the levels of the game that could be reached. Across the top of the chart were columns that designated spaces for the type of lifeline used (50/50, ask the audience, or phone a friend), a copy of the exact question they were used on, the category of the question (entertainment, sports, science and nature, history, literature, or current events), and whether they answered the question correctly. The chart also helped promote inter-rater reliability since both observers viewed the episodes and recorded the contestants’ actions on the charts. For an example of the chart, view the appendix.

Our design was quasi-experimental since the main variables we used were sex differences, which cannot be actively manipulated by the experimenters. Our research was also considered archival since we used previously documented data, episodes of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” to conduct our study. Recording of this information took place during a two-month period at the researchers’ convenience. The variables noted from the show included the sex of the contestant, name, hometown, award received, lifelines used (50/50, ask the audience, and phone a friend), the questions they were used on, the categories of the questions (entertainment, sports, science and nature, history, literature, and current events), and whether they answered the questions correctly. Our main focus was the sex of the contestants. Based on the gender differences in help seeking behavior noted in previous research, we concluded that males and females would ask for help differently on the questions they had difficulty answering on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Specifically, we said that since women were more likely to ask for help, they would use their lifelines earlier than men who were more likely not to ask for help, and therefore would use their lifelines later. When the participants utilized their lifelines, this represented them asking for help, since this forced them to admit they could not do it alone and needed to lean on someone else’s knowledge to answer the question correctly. We also used the types of lifelines to reflect the types of help the contestants asked for. The 50/50 option represented an anonymous type of help seeking because the source was a computer who could not hold the contestant accountable. The ask the audience option represented an impersonal type of help because the sources were humans, but they were strangers that the contestant did not interact with. The phone a friend option, on the other hand, represented a personal request for help, since the source was a close friend whom the contestant probably interacted with frequently. We also noted some other variables to see if they provided any other patterns and insights into our results. We included hometown in the chance that maybe the area one lived in had an effect on the time it took for a lifeline to be used. For example, maybe people from the south are more comfortable with asking for help, and would therefore use their lifelines before someone from the north. We also included the question the lifelines were used on and the category they fell into. Many connections could be made with this information, like maybe males know more than females about current events so questions in this area encouraged less lifeline usage for the males. Or the categories could be linked to hometown, where southerners might use more lifelines on questions involving the stock exchange while northerners might use more on questions involving farming. The amount of money the contestants won was also documented because a connection might be found between the bigger winners and the timing and types of lifelines used. Along with the many variables, there was a control that concerned the contestants we used in our study. We decided in the beginning to omit celebrities from our research. Since the celebrities were usually playing for money to donate to charities, the show allowed them to cheat. We felt that this cheating would cause the contestants to change their lifeline usage by utilizing them much later or maybe not utilizing them at all, and inevitably confound our results. The researchers viewed the episodes of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” together and documented the information on the charts. When a contestant was introduced, their sex, name, and hometowns were written in the appropriate blanks at the top of the page. As the contestant played, checks were placed in the boxes in the charts next to which questions they answered right at which level and which lifelines they used at which level. After a lifeline was used, the exact question it was used on was written down along with the corresponding category. After the contestant’s turn was over, the amount of money they won was recorded at the top of the page. Due to the pre-selected contestants who were not in any risk or any way affected by our study, there was no need for informed consent or debriefing.

We conducted a study to see if gender differences existed in the help seeking behavior of participants on the television show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The relationship between sex and the earliest signs of help seeking behavior was not significant. The males (M=9.74, SD=2.57) and the females (M=9.02, SD=2.58) did not differ significantly on the level they first used their lifelines t(13)=5.11, p=.618 (two-tailed). The relationship between sex and the type of help asked for first was also not significant. The males (M=11.14, SD=1.35) and the females (M=9.575, SD=2.14) did not differ significantly on whether the phone a friend option was used before the poll the audience and the 50/50 options t(11)=1.63, p=.131 (two-tailed). Overall, there was no significant difference by gender on help seeking behavior involving the contestants on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” We were able to note, though, that the number of men contestants outnumbered the amount of women greatly (2:1), and the difference in the dollar winnings earned by males (M=92,900, SD=88,150) and females (M=52,200, SD=45,300) was not statistically significant t(13)=.958, p=.355 (two-tailed). Also, the difference in the level of difficulty reached for males (M=11.70, SD=1.25) and females (M=10.80, SD=1.92) was not statistically significant t(13)=1.10, p=.290 (two-tailed).

Major differences in communication styles and the sexes still exist today. The purpose of this study was to explore gender differences in the area of help seeking behavior, a type of communication, as seen on the television show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” It was hypothesized that women would use their lifelines earlier and be more prone to utilize their phone a friend option first, while men would use their lifelines later and be more prone to utilize their 50/50 and ask the audience options first. The results found, though, did not support this proposed hypothesis. A difference in sex did not have a significant effect on who used their lifelines first nor which type of lifeline was used first. These findings were inconsistent with the literature produced by Thompson’s research (1999) regarding the preschoolers, the puzzles and help seeking behavior. This difference could be a result of validity. Thompson conducted his experiment using a more normal situation that the preschoolers encountered daily, putting together a puzzle. Also, his tests were done in a more controlled environment with more similar participants that allowed the help seeking behavior variable to be the focus of his research. In our study, the setting was the show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which was hardly normal or a situation that people encountered daily, so many outside variables could have contributed to the difference between our findings and Thompson’s. Also, our participants varied greatly in age, ethnicity, occupation, and background, which could have greatly affected our insignificant results regarding our hypothesis. In the future, experimenters might consider conducting the study in slightly more controlled environments for the sake of internal validity. When our research was also compared with Tannen’s literature (1994), it was inconsistent. Tannen said that men and women have different communication styles and preferences towards the type of help they use. In our study we used the types of lifelines used by each contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” to reflect these ideas. But we did not find a significant difference between men and women. This could be because the lifelines were not sufficient representations of the concepts that Tannen wrote about. Maybe the contestants did not view the 50/50 as help from the computer that could not hold them accountable, nor view the phone a friend as direct help from a peer who could hold them accountable. This difference in our views and the contestants could have kept the participants from utilizing the lifelines in the manners that we predicted because they did not see them in the light that we based our study on. The next experimenters should try to use a tool that is more defined and understood by both sides of the study so the predictions and findings can be more accurate.This research did find “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” to be a fair game show in the sense that there was no statistically significant difference between the amount of money men and women won and the levels of difficulty they reached. Although the means for the money the men and women won did differ a good amount, the standard deviations from these means also differed by a lot. In other words, although the means were far apart, they were not good representations of the groups as wholes because the scores were not normally distributed and covered such a wide range of scores. Our study did have some strength regarding the reliability of our measuring instrument. The chart we constructed was very easy to record the information on and read the information from. Because both experimenters watched the episodes together, recorded what we saw on the charts, and discussed our observations to make sure there were no discrepancies, our inter-rater reliability was high and not biased. Also, our simple chart contributed to our simple procedure, which would make this study very easy for other experimenters to replicate in the future. If other experimenters did decide to replicate our study, a few dilemmas were found that could be improved upon. The first problem arose with the initial acquiring of the episodes of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” We attempted to tape them off of the television whenever they came on. We soon realized that this was a bad idea when the station stopped airing the episodes on a regular schedule and began to just play them at random. Praying that the show would be aired on a night when we could tape it was not a sufficient way to obtain an asset so essential to our experiment. Along with this first dilemma came our second major problem, a lack of participants. We originally estimated that we needed at least 40 participants (20 males and 20 females) to conduct our study. Due to the trouble we had recording “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” we only obtained 5 episodes, which in turn meant only 15 participants (10 males and 5 females). Not only were our numbers few, but they were unbalanced. With more episodes and more participants we could have had more of a variety and a larger subject pool to mix with our variables in the hope of finding something statistically significant. In the future, if experimenters did attempt to replicate our study, they should find a more reliable way of acquiring the episodes like contacting the television station.Communication differences do still exist between men and women today. The more studies that are conducted regarding help seeking behavior and subjects like it, the more likely we will be able to uncover these differences and better understand each other. Bridging these gaps will promote healthier relationships on all levels. Although no statistically significant information was found through this study, we hope that other experimenters will be able to read it and learn from our mistakes so that more advances can be made in the ever-prominent field of communication.

Sachs, M. A. (2001). Ohio state university fact sheet: Male/female communication styles. Retrieved September 11, 2001, from, D. (1993). Gender and conversational interaction. New York: Oxford University Press.Tannen, D. (1994). Gender and discourse. New York: Oxford University Press.Tannen, D. (1999). Gender styles. Retrieved September 24, 2001, from, R. B. (1999). Gender differences in preschoolers’ help-eliciting communication. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 160, 357-368. Wisch, A. F., Mahalik, J. R., Hayes, J. A., & E. A. Nutt. (1995). The impact of gender role conflict and counseling technique on psychological help seeking in men. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 33, 77-85.

Data Sheet

Sex: Tape #: Name: Award: Hometown: Life Line Used Question Category Correct Incorrect1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Submitted 12/13/2001 7:55:59 PM
Last Edited 1/3/2002 12:47:34 PM
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