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.