How Men and Women React Differently to Stress

Men and women have contradictory approaches to handling stressful situations. Professors at USC conducted a study that found that men and women’s brains function differently while undergoing stress.  While anxious women crave emotional support, stressed men distance themselves socially.

This study indicates that experiencing an acute stressor affects subsequent activity and interactions in brain regions involved in decoding and interpreting others’ facial expressions in opposite ways for men and women.To study gender’s effects on stress, researchers recruited about 50 subjects.  Half of the subjects put their hands in ice-cold water for up to three minutes in order to create both a high-stress and low-stress group.  Researchers then measured their saliva’s cortisol levels to verify their stress levels.  All of the subjects then looked at a series of photos featuring strangers’ faces with a variety of emotional expressions.  Subjects were told to identity each person’s gender, but meanwhile the researchers monitored the participants’ brain activity to determine whether the part of the brain that deduces facial expressions was also being put to use.

According to the researchers, “This study indicates that experiencing an acute stressor affects subsequent activity and interactions in brain regions involved in decoding and interpreting others’ facial expressions in opposite ways for men and women.”

This brain readings showed that the stressed women became hyperaware of the facial emotions.  More than the men, stressed women were particularly sensitive to the pictures with someone frowning.  On the other hand, the stressed men showed lower brain attention given to the photos’ facial expressions.  Apparently, male stress overrides men’s ability to adequately pay attention to others’ emotions.

In addition to identifying these emotional differences, the professors found that that stress and sex did not affect the participants’ abilities to identify each picture’s gender.  The four subgroups answered these questions uniformly with 96 percent accuracy.  Moreover, all four of the groups scored similarly on a subsequent memory task involving the faces, suggesting that gender and stress level do not have a significant influence on one’s memory.

Although men and women might become stressed out by the same factors, their brains react differently.  Now, there is scientific research to support the notion that women are socially needy when anxious, while men disengage emotionally.

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5 Comments

  • How the hell do you jump from “women become more aware of facial expressions when stressed, whereas men become less aware” to “women become more socially needy when anxious, while men disengage emotionally”?
    That’s a huge leap with no quantitative data to support your hypothesis.

  • i’d wish males would be more sensitive and know what girls feel keep a memorie stuck in ur head,.be honest like gurl,have same feelings.and i’d wish males would not loook at the outside,but towards everything!!.why arent guys sensitive??

  • I’m kinda split when it comes to disengage emotionally & pay attention to others body language. What I need to do is find more of an equal balance between the two. I myself may be more distant, not to appear needy. On the other hand, I don’t want to come across as prying into someones’ personal space by asking if there’s anything wrong like “what’s on your mind” or ” is something bothering you”. Usually I’ll get the “I don’t want to talk about it” line. Rarely does someone open up, but sometimes they do. I just want to be a friend & help out, but get tired of being shut out.

  • To Ddsyprz: Guys can be sensitive – but we also try to spell things properly, speak and write well. I sincerely hope you put more effort into your personal hygiene (that means how you clean yourself gurl) than you put into your writing and spelling. Maybe you should look at yourself and figure it out – get real!

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