By Rachel Popa
The emotional differences between men and women have long been disputed, but a recent study aims to set the record straight.
Sara Fredrickson, a doctoral psychology student at Roosevelt University, created a study with associate professor of psychology Kimberly Dienes to dispel the stereotypical characterizations of stress felt by women over relationships, and men over careers and money.
The study, which was presented this month at the American Psychosomatic Society’s annual meeting, found that both men and women have the same biological reactions to stress. The study is also part of RU’s “The Biopsychosocial Model of Stress Sensitivity and Risk for Depression,” a project that began in 2011.
According to the study, stress levels were highest when participants were exposed to “chronic interpersonal stressors” such as breakups and fights. The lowest levels of stress were recorded when participants were exposed to “environmental stressors” like neighborhood safety and illness, the study found. Stress was measured by the level of cortisol secreted in participants’ saliva which is an indicator of chronic stress, according to the study.
“We were surprised to discover that, biologically, men and women were similarly affected by the same types of chronic stressors, including interpersonal stress,” Fredrickson said.
Similar studies in the past, such as those conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), have concluded that women are more likely to report feeling stressed, as well as the physical and emotional symptoms that come with stress, such as headaches and feeling the urge to cry.
In contrast, with Fredrickson and and Dienes’ study, the APA found that men are more likely to cite work as a source of stress. However, the APA did find that women are more likely to report money as a source of stress, which goes against the stereotypes that Fredrickson and Dienes wished to dispel.
The APA also found that both men and women cited willpower as the number one barrier to dealing with stress and change, which was one of the only aspects of the study that men and women agreed on. On the other hand, Fredrickson and Dienes’ study found more similarities between men and women, citing the divides that often exist between the two.
“Too often, we try to draw divides between men and women,” Dienes said. “Biologically speaking, this study shows that men and women have the same kinds of sensitivities to stress.”