Tuesday, June 16

Brave men and timid women? A review of the gender differences in fear and anxiety

This paper was very informational about the basic differences between men and women, what’s the nurture aspects and what are genetic aspects and what are hormonal aspects and what are societal aspects in terms of the differences. Let me quote the main bits.

Substantial evidence points to a preponderance of women demonstrating greater fear
and anxiety than men across the life span. Many of the risk factors for developing anxiety form the basis for the expected gender differences. For example, women tend to score higher on higher-order vulnerability factors including negative affectivity and trait anxiety. Further, genetic research suggests that these factors are more heritable among women for reasons that are still unclear. One possibility is that environmental factors counteract anxious tendencies among boys but support them among girls. Although few temperamental differences are observed in very young infants, there is a shift toward greater negative affectivity among girls during the developmental period at which gender socialization becomes evident. Timing of this shift implicates environmental influences such as gender socialization.

This tends to suggest that its mostly social and cultural factors which leads women to be more fearful and anxiety ridden than men despite the fact that you can actually inherit these behavioural factors? I was not very clear as to how genetics would capture this. Does this mean that we have genetically transmittable bio-chemical indicators of emotions just like we have inter-generational transfers of eye and skin colour? Hmmm, makes one think. How about intelligence? hmmm.

Much of the hormonal and physiological data for gender differences appear contradictory. Several studies suggest that men are somewhat more physiologically reactive than women in response to acute stressors. While seemingly inconsistent with broad gender differences in anxiety, this finding is consistent with women’s greater tendency to worry, which is known to decrease physiological reactivity. It is also consistent with evidence that oxytocin production among women leads to lower arousal and stress responding. Evidence that
men are more responsive to acute threat, whereas women are more distressed by potential
threat also fits well with the tend-and-befriend stress response articulated by Taylor et al.
(2000). However, through hypervigilance to threat and prioritizing social networks, the tend and-befriend response may lower women’s perceived coping ability and encourage avoidance.

This further indicates that the social networks, your friends, your parents, your social network actually assist in increasing your vulnerability to anxiety and fear. So you feed off others. Simple answer, spend more time with boys :)

Although women are not more prone to experience traumas overall, they are more
likely to experience certain types of trauma, including sexual abuse and social network crises, which may be particularly potent risk factors for anxiety. Further, in response to aversive events, women are more likely to use emotion-focused coping which is less effective in reducing distress than problem-focused coping strategies.

Hmmm, ok, I accept this point.


Through lower parent-child synchronicity and caregiver overprotection, girls may have
less opportunity to exert control over their environment. As a result, women may perceive
themselves as less capable of coping with potentially threatening situations. Lower self efficacy may, in turn, motivate women to rely on a threat-based style of responding and to cope with uncertainty through avoidance. Avoidant coping among women is consistent with
traditional gender roles, in which men and women are expected to respond to potential threat differently. Thus, the female stress response, as viewed from an evolutionary perspective that emphasizes the need to protect and nurture offspring, may be reinforced by gender socialization processes that support worry, sensitivity to socially-transmitted information, and avoidant coping.

So because its tough for women to break out of their peer and social grouping, they are less able to cope with fear and anxiety. This isn't a happy ending, I am afraid and my flippant answer above, to be more with boys, seems to be more appropriate than ever…

1 comment:

nancy said...

I was very interested reading your review of this article and would like to read the article for myself. However, my school does not offer Clinical Psychology Review as a free database and I am extremely low on cash. This is probably a long shot, but is there any way you could send me the article? I would really appreciate it.

My e-mail is nancymercer26@gmail.com

Thank you so much!

-Nancy