There is a common stereotype that women are much more "emotional" than men. While there is a certain truth in such observation, and by nature women are more focused on their emotions and refer to them more commonly in conversation than men, both men and women will experience emotions and emotional reactions to different stimuli and situations.
Man should behave like a “Man”
There is one more common stereotype, which significance is determined by the cultural background as well, that men should not show their emotions at all, as that is an obvious weakness sign. "Real men" do not cry or get upset. Bottom line! Both due to the different biological emotional response and as result of the evolutional changes developed through the history, men certainly show the world at a whole less of their emotional side, compared to the more emotional female response to the life events and inside personal relationship. However, men do express their emotions in the particular way and in the particular situation. Compared to women, men often show their emotions to less people, and often only to their nearest and dearest. Also compared to women, they tend to display their emotions with less intensity, making conscious and subconscious efforts to down play how they are feeling. Men are expected to have a greater control over their emotions and what they will display to the world.
How true stereotypes are?
Stereotypes of the way men and women are expected to deal with their emotions pervade our culture and society, easily eliciting images of overly reserved men and excitable, emotional women. Boys are told to suck it up; girls are told to let it all out. But do gender differences actually exist between men and women, and if so, how do they affect our emotional health?
The research is mixed regarding the emotional differences between the sexes. Strong evidence has been found that there are differences in the way men and women detect, process, and express emotion. Other studies show that men and women share more emotional similarities than differences. However, the stereotypes of reserved men and emotional women are widespread and do affect the way young boys and girls are raised. Some researchers argue that we may be ingraining gender differences that do not naturally exist by accepting and passing on these stereotypes to our children. Other researchers believe these differences have developed due to the evolutionary roles placed on men and women to survive and thrive. While researchers debate these gender differences, they agree that the differences ultimately can have a negative effect on members of both sexes.
Recent researches have shown important ways in which men and women react emotionally and perceive emotion in others:
- A global study of 55 cultures found that women tend to be more emotional, agreeable, extroverted, and conscientious than men.
- Women read other people’s emotional reactions better than men, regardless of whether they receive those emotional cues verbally or visually.
- Women reported experiencing love and anger much more intensely than men did in another assessment of gender differences in emotional response. These women also smiled more when recalling memories of happiness or love.
- Men and women respond to stress in different ways. Women display greater sadness or anxiety than men, while men show an increase in blood pressure and a tendency toward alcohol craving.
- Women are more inclined than men to experience disgust when exposed to stimuli intended to elicit an emotional reaction.
And those are just studies over the past few years. Decades of research have found numerous differences in the ways men and women interpret emotions and react emotionally. Also, studies have found that gender differences matter more than sexual orientation — a heterosexual woman and a homosexual woman have more in common emotionally than a heterosexual woman and a homosexual man.
Why these differences occur is less easily explained:
- Some research has found that the differences may be rooted in cultural stereotypes. For example, women are perceived as being more emotional and behave that way because it’s believed that’s what women do, while men express emotion only when the situation warrants it.
- Parents may have a hand in promoting these gender differences, expressing disapproval with boys who cry or express other "weak" emotions while shrugging off similar behavior in girls.
- Other studies posit an evolutionary cause for these gender differences in emotion. Men serving as hunter-gatherers needed to take more risks and be more dominating, while women who stayed home and cared for young needed to be more nurturing and cautious. These roles have resisted change as human society has progressed, and indeed, progress may cause these roles to become even more pronounced.
Are Men and Women wired differently?
Often emotional differences between men and women come down to their physiological make-up. For example, while the same group of neurons in the brains of both men and women process emotional experiences of fear and aggression, these neurons are connected to different regions of the brain in men and women.
For men, the cluster "talks with" brain regions that help them respond to sensors for what's going on outside the body, such as the visual cortex and an area that coordinates motor actions.
For women, the cluster communicates with brain regions that help them respond to sensors inside the body, such as the insular cortex and hypothalamus. These areas tune in to and regulate women's hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and respiration.
"Throughout evolution, women have had to deal with a number of internal stressors, such as childbirth, that men haven't had to experience," said one of the latest study’s co-author Larry Cahill of the University of California Irvine. "What is fascinating about this is the brain seems to have evolved to be in tune with those different stressors."
This study focused on activity in the amygdala, a cluster of neurons found on both sides of the brain and involved for both sexes in hormone and other involuntary functions, as well as emotions and perception. Cahill already knew that the sexes use different sides of their brains to process and store long-term memories, based on his earlier work. He also has shown that a particular drug, Propranolol, can block memory differently in men and women.
The scans, performed in the process of the study, showed that men's and women's amygdalas are polar opposites in terms of connections with other parts of the brain. In men, the right amygdala is more active and shows more connections with other brain regions. In women, the same is true of the left amygdala.
Scientists still have to find out if one's sex also affects the wiring of other regions of the brain. It could be that while men and women have basically the same hardware, it's the software instructions and how they are put to use that makes the sexes seem different.
Hormones play a major role in human emotions. Surges or drops in hormone levels can make a person more or less likely to be angry, sad, happy, or joyous. Since men and women have different levels of hormones such as testosterone, known to incite anger and violence, and estrogen, known to cause bonding and nurturing behaviors, it is safe to assume that those hormones would also result in emotional differences between men and women.
Women are better than men identifying emotion
As part of the serious scientific investigation, Olivier Collignon and a team from the Université de Montréal Centre de recherche en neuropsychologie et cognition (CERNEC) clearly demonstrated that women are better than men at processing auditory, visual and audiovisual emotions, while taking for this study fear and disgust.
The research team studied fear and disgust because both emotions have a protective, evolutionary history. Simply put, these emotions are more important for survival of the species than other emotions such as joy.
As said, the study found that women were superior in completing assessments and responded quicker when emotions were portrayed by a female rather than a male actor. Compared to men, women were faster at processing facial and multisensory expressions.
Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that females, because of their role as primary caretakers, are wired to quickly and accurately decode or detect distress in preverbal infants or threatening signals from other adults to enhance their chances at survival.
"However, these studies should not rule out the fact that culture and socialization do play a powerful role in determining gender differences in the processing of emotional expressions," says Collignon.
Does gender related emotional response affect your health?
It is a well established fact that gender related differences in emotional processing and response have direct consequences on the physical and emotional health of men and women. Overly emotional women tend to be at greater risk for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, while men who repress their feelings tend to be at greater risk for physical ailments such as high blood pressure, and also tend to indulge in more risky behavior and vices such as smoking or drinking.
Researchers and doctors have several different proposals for dealing with these differences. Some argue that we should accept these gender differences, based on the fact that feminine women and masculine men tend to be happier than those who are gender-atypical. According to this line of reasoning, boys and girls should be allowed to develop both stereotypical and non-stereotypical emotional responses without judging them or trying to shape them.
Others believe that parents can help dull or negate these stereotypes by refusing to reinforce them. For example, fathers who take a more involved role in child-rearing tend to raise children who don't fall into the stereotypical sex roles of the stoic male or expressive female.
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