20 June 1998

Men Just As Emotional As Women - If Only They'd Show It

Men and women experience the same level of sadness while watching tearjerkers like Titanic - but women are more likely to reach for a box of tissues. That is the conclusion of Vanderbilt University psychologist Ann Kring, whose findings on sex differences in emotion have appeared in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"It is incorrect to make a blanket statement that women are more emotional than men," she says. "It is correct to say that women show their emotions more than men."

Kring conducted two studies - one to determine whether women are "more emotional" or just "more expressive", and the other to explore whether gender roles account for expressive differences between women and men. In both, women were shown to be more facially expressive of both positive and negative emotions.

In both studies, university students were brought individually into a laboratory setting and told that they were participating in a study of the psychology of movies and what aspect of a movie draws people into the plot (to prevent them from modifying their behaviour).

Subjects were then secretly videotaped. In addition, electrodes were attached to their hands to monitor palm-sweating - a measure of emotion. They were later given a self-report survey on expressivity.

"We decided to see if maybe sex isn't the important variable in emotional expressiveness since there are such predominant stereotypes about sex and emotion," says Kring. "Maybe it's not sex that contributes to these emotion differences, but something called gender role."

Feminine gender roles traditionally include such attributes as being nurturing, affectionate, warm and caring, while masculine characteristics are generally the opposite: aggressive, powerful and assertive.

Significantly, both male and female participants endorsing a high number of characteristics traditionally associated with both masculinity and femininity were more facially expressive. They also reported having a more expressive disposition than participants reporting only a high number of either masculine or feminine characteristics.

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