Men, women ride the same emotional roller coaster

October 31, 2021

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Men, women ride the same emotional roller coaster

Contrary to widely held gender stereotypes, women are not more emotional than men, according to new research. Feelings such as enthusiasm, nervousness or strength are often interpreted differently between the two genders. It's what being "emotional" means to men vs. women that is part of the study that dispels these biases.

What the researchers say: “For instance, a man whose emotions fluctuate during a sporting event is described as ‘passionate.’ But a woman whose emotions change due to any event, even if provoked, is considered ‘irrational,’” says the study's senior author.

The research team followed 142 men and women over 75 days to learn more about their daily emotions, both positive and negative. The women were divided into four groups: one naturally cycling and three others using different forms of oral contraceptives.

The researchers detected fluctuations in emotions three different ways, and then compared the sexes. They found little-to-no differences between the men and the various groups of women, suggesting that men's emotions fluctuate to the same extent as women's do (although likely for different reasons).  

"We also didn't find meaningful differences between the groups of women, making clear that emotional highs and lows are due to many influences—not only hormones," she said.

The findings have wide implications the researchers say. Women have historically been excluded from participation in a number of job-related areas in part due to the assumption that ovarian hormone fluctuations lead to variation, especially in emotion.  

"Our study uniquely provides psychological data to show that the justifications for excluding women in the first place (because fluctuating ovarian hormones, and consequently emotions) were misguided," the researchers said.

So, what? The important point that the researchers make in the study is that men and women’s emotions both fluctuate to more-or-less the same degree. However, the two genders express those emotions differently. Women’s emotional fluctuations have been studied primarily by male observers, just as women leaders have been judged by reference male leadership characteristics.

Interestingly, a few years ago it was assumed that women suffered far higher rates of depressive illness and anxiety than men. Then it was discovered that the mood disorder rates of the two genders was pretty much the same, only men showed depression in different ways. The assumption by researchers—mostly male—was that the symptoms women displayed were the only symptoms of the illness and that male symptoms of depression—anger for example—were not. Hence women were more depressed.

Read more on emotions.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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