Although many people have to deal with the same types of stressful situations in their daily lives, not everybody is affected the same way by those situations. For instance, men seem to be more concerned with performance-oriented situations, such as work challenges and tasks involving physical fitness. Women, however, seem to be more concerned with socially-oriented situations, such as marital conflict and physical appearance. If men and women differ in how stressful they view certain events, their bodies may also react differently to those events. To find out, researchers from
and Brown University conducted an experiment. Ohio State
What was the research about?
One body reaction commonly associated with stress is an increase in cardiovascular activity, such as heart rate and blood pressure. Therefore, the researchers decided to measure participants' cardiovascular reactions to different stressful events. To begin the experiment participants sat in a comfortable chair and listened to soft music for 10 minutes. During this time the researchers measured the participant's heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, systolic blood pressures, and mean arterial pressure. These measurements served as a stress-free baseline the researchers could then compare later measurements against. After the baseline readings were taken, participants completed four different tasks. Three of the tasks were designed to be performance-oriented and one task was designed to be appearance-oriented. For the performance tasks, participants had to do subtraction problems in their head while being timed, trace a star pattern while only looking at its mirror image, and squeeze a handgrip for 2.5 minutes. For the appearance-oriented task, participants had to give a four minute speech on what they liked and disliked about their body and physical appearance. After participants finished each task, the researchers again measured their cardiovascular responses.
The results showed that men's cardiovascular system reacted more than women's during the performance-oriented tasks. In other words, men's cardiovascular readings rose above their baseline levels during the performance-oriented tasks, whereas women's cardiovascular readings did not rise. During the appearance-oriented tasks, however, women's cardiovascular readings rose above their baseline levels, whereas men's did not. These results seem to suggest that men respond more to performance situations, whereas women respond more to appearance situations.
Why should it matter to me?
When men and women work together, it's important for them to realize how each gender reacts to certain types of situations. Situations that don't seem stressful to men may be very stressful for women and vice versa. Being sensitive to these differences can help reduce annoyance at another person's stressed out reaction to a seemingly "harmless" event and even prepare working partners to better help each other cope.
Source: Stroud, Laura R., Niaura, Raymond S., & Stoney, Catherine M. (2001). Sex differences in cardiovascular reactivity to physical appearance and performance challenges. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8, 240-250.