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Are Women More Emotional Than Men

by Lyndon Langley
Are Women More Emotional Than Men

Are Women More Emotional Than Men

In a landmark study published in 2007, researchers found that while both men and women show similar levels of physiological arousal when watching sad or fearful scenes on film, women were significantly less happy with their partner’s choice of movie than men. In other words, even if our brains respond physiologically (through increased heart rate) to the same level of stimuli, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re experiencing the same thing.
A similar phenomenon was discovered by scientists at University College London in 2010 who studied how people reacted to images depicting romantic scenarios. The results showed that participants responded differently to these pictures depending on whether they had been primed beforehand to think about relationships or not. Specifically, when primed to think about relationships, women reported feeling closer to the man shown in the image, but when the prime wasn’t present, women felt farther away from him — whereas men didn’t experience this effect. These findings suggest that although men and women may have an equal capacity for physical attraction, there is still something fundamentally different going on underneath the surface.
So what accounts for women being more emotionally expressive than men? Does this difference stem from biology, or are women simply responding to societal pressures regarding appropriate behavior? One way to answer this question would be to compare the emotional reactions of identical twins raised together versus those raised apart. If genetics play a role in determining emotional expression, then the twin sets should react similarly to certain cues. On the other hand, if environmental factors largely determine emotional response, then the two groups should respond very differently to the same stimulus.
To test this theory, researchers recruited pairs of female identical twins and male identical twins. Each pair consisted of one twin who grew up together and another who grew up apart. They exposed each group to neutral, positive and negative imagery via video clips and asked them to rate how much emotion they associated with each clip on a scale of 1-5. For instance, if a woman saw a scene where her brother was hugging a girl she liked, she would be instructed to choose an option from a list including “happy,” “sad” and “angry.” She’d also need to indicate which emotion came most naturally to her. Then, the experimenters would record her facial expressions during the presentation.
The results showed that overall, the twins’ responses were fairly consistent. That said, the girls did associate more emotionality with the negative images than the boys did, and the opposite pattern held true for the positive ones. When you break down the data further, however, the picture starts to change. While both boys and girls assigned higher ratings to positive and lower ratings to negative images regardless of their familial relationship, the twins’ responses differed markedly. Whereas girls from fraternal pairs tended to assign equally high ratings to both happy and sad images, girls from identical pairs gave higher ratings to happy images than to sad ones. This was not the case among the boys, whose responses followed the general trend seen in all subjects.
These findings seem to imply that while the sexes share a basic ability to feel certain emotions, society plays a large part in determining how often we actually do so. Although biological sex definitely has an influence on the intensity of our feelings, cultural expectations around how men and women ought to act can lead us to suppress our emotions altogether, particularly when they don’t fit into traditional gender roles.
As a result, many experts say that gender stereotypes might help explain why women tend to report more intense emotions than men do. It’s possible that since women are expected to be more expressive, they may be inclined to keep their feelings bottled up because they worry others will judge them negatively for sharing them. Conversely, men may bottle up their emotions because they want to appear strong and stoic.
Another factor worth considering when analyzing these results is the possibility that the twins’ family environments played a significant role in shaping their emotional responses. Perhaps the girls who grew up together experienced greater stress due to living under the same roof — making them prone to suppressing their emotions more frequently. Or maybe the girls who grew up apart didn’t get enough attention growing up — leading them to overcompensate by expressing themselves freely now that they’re adults. Further studies will need to take these variables into account before any firm conclusions can be drawn. But regardless of which hypothesis proves correct, the fact remains that women are indeed more likely than men to express their emotions openly, even when doing so isn’t socially acceptable.

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