Men And Women React Differently To Stress

There are many areas in life where it can be noticed that men and women respond differently to some situations. Recent research with brain imaging has shown that each gender responds differently to stress.

The main difference seems to be that stress caused changes in men’s right prefrontal cortex and their left orbitofrontal cortex. These areas are usually associated with what is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction. Thus it can be expected that men deal with problems that cause them stress by going into ‘fight-mode’ that could in some instances involve aggression, or they respond with avoidance and withdrawal.

This is very different for women under stress. For them, changes were noticed in their limbic system, the part of the brain that is mainly involved in relationships, attachments, and emotions.  This indicates that women may respond to stress with changes in mood (depression) and with what is known as the ‘tend-and-befriend’ dynamic by becoming nurturing and seeking connections with others to maximize support.

These two very different coping styles seem to be rooted in the evolutionary past of humans when the division of responsibilities had males hunting, fighting and protecting while females tended to the well-being and functioning of the group or community.

Nowadays the nature of stressors people face has changed and both styles of coping with stress create a distinct set of problems if people unconsciously act as if they are still living in the Stone Age. Most stressors today have to do with people’s relationships or the lack thereof, how they compensate for their insecurities, and how they follow their ambitions.

These modern stressors require strategies that are much more complex than ‘fight-or-flight’ or ‘tend-and-befriend.’ Following the Darwinian insights of evolution, it can be expected that those people will be successful who can adjust to modern stressors with strategies that use both male and female strengths of problem-solving.

This article was inspired by the following research:  University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (2007, November 20). Brain Imaging Shows How Men And Women Cope Differently Under Stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2009

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