Women More Stressed in Face of Bad News Than Men

By Emily Murray

Often the media portrays men as  the more stoic sex in the face of tragedy and many of us believe this is just part of a long lasting social stigma, however, science has found that there are some real chemical reactions responsible for this. It appears that women experience higher levels of stress when they hear bad news than their male peers.

In order to test this theory, researchers from the University of Montreal studied 60 men and women ranging in age from 18 to 35. They split this group into 4 smaller groups and had them read different types of news stories. The first group of both men and women read stories that were considered neutral. The other groups read stories similar to what many of us hear on the news at night, dealing with murders and other unpleasant events. In order to scientifically measure the amount of stress each person experienced after reading these stories a small sample of their saliva was taken.

When we undergo stress, our bodies produce the hormone cortisol as a result. When comparing the level of the hormone in men and women who read the same upsetting news stories it became clear that women suffered stress in higher amounts than men when later asked to complete more stressful tasks. They also were able to remember the details of the trauma more clearly. The following day the participants discussed what happened in the news stories and then took part in some stressful tasks involving memory and intellect. While levels of cortisol didn’t shoot up too high after they read the disturbing stories, women experienced higher levels of stress in response to other stressful events after reading the stories. This seems to suggest that when women hear bad news they tend to carry it with them and the stress than carries over into other parts of their day.

Like most differences in behavior in either sex it can be traced back perhaps to our natural instincts. Historically a woman must watch out for danger so that she can keep her children and family safe. This natural inclination to be aware of situations that might result in harm, even if it is to someone else, may be responsible for the increased sensitivity women experience in the face of bad news.

While there isn’t much we can do to avoid getting hit with some form of media and subsequently bad news throughout the day, women may want to take this study to heart and if they are particularly affected by upsetting news stories they may be something that should be avoided as much as possible in the future.