I’d like to ask my female readers a question: do you sit mesmerised and horrified as news of the latest tragedy, murder or disaster flickers across your TV screen? Have you ever lain awake at night thinking about the suffering victims? And while all this has been happening, have you found your husband or boyfriend to be frustratingly cool and uninvolved about the whole thing?
A new study from Canada may throw some light on this particular quirk of the male psyche.
University of Montreal researchers, working at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital, say that women show greater sensitivity to negative news stories than men.
Sixty people were divided into four male-female groups and asked to read different types of news stories, ranging from neutral ones, such as the opening of a new film, to ones with an emotional kick, such as accidents and disasters. Then the participants were given a series of memory and intellect-focused tests designed to evaluate how they responded to stressful situations. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol were examined at key stages.
Lastly the participants returned the following day to talk about what they had read in their stores.
Researchers found that the women who had read negative news stories showed higher levels of stress following the testing and also recalled the news stories they had read in greater detail.
Lead author of the study, Marie-France Marin, remarked rather drily:
“It is interesting to note that we did not observe this phenomenon amongst the male participants.”
“Although the news stories alone did not increase stress levels, they did make the women more reactive, affecting their physiological responses to later stressful situations.”
This curious difference may be nature talking. The researchers speculate that women may have evolved a different response to stress and a greater sense of empathy than men because they have historically been more focused on the survival of children.
I think we can see an echo of this discovery in the way men and women talk. No, I’m not talking about the hoary old cliché that women talk more than men, which seems to have little basis in fact. I am talking about the way they talk. In so far as one can generalise about entire genders, when women talk to each other on a personal basis you will usually hear a degree of emotional involvement – expressions of empathy and sympathy for each other’s woes and discussions of the fine details in their lives. Men, by contrast, tend to be a little more detached, and when they talk to each other it is as often as not about things rather than people: football, films, books, careers, and so on.
Neither way of talking is better or worse than the other: they’re just different.
The media adage ‘it it bleeds it leads’ sums up something we have all felt while watching the news: why is so much of it bad? Many journalists will vehemently deny that the media is fixated on doom and disaster but the fact remains that the media is a commercial operation, and attention-grabbing sensationalism is an easy way to pull in those all-important advertisers, readers and viewers.
Keeping up with current affairs is a worthy ambition, but none of us should ever hesitate to switch over – or switch off – if and when it all gets a little too much.
So how do men deal with bad news? By turning to the bottle apparently! A 2008 study found that men are more likely than women to crave alcohol after getting bad news.
You can draw conclusions from that