June 16, 1998
Contact: Jamie Lawson Reeves
Women more likely than men to put emotions in motion
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Men and women experience the same level of sadness while watching a tearjerker at the movies, but women are more likely to reach for a box of tissues, according to a Vanderbilt University psychologist.
Research by Associate Professor of Psychology Ann Kring found that women aren't more emotional than men, they are just more expressive of their emotions. "It is incorrect to make a blanket statement that women are more emotional than men," Kring says. "It is correct to say that women show their emotions more than men."
Kring's findings on sex differences in emotion were published this spring in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Emotion in this study was measured by looking at expression, experience and physiological changes among research subjects. Participants in the study viewed clips from popular movies divided into five categories - sad, happy, fear/disgust, anger and neutral.
Kring conducted two studies on the differences in emotion among men and women. In the first study, Kring examined the emotional responses of men and women to determine whether women are "more emotional" or whether they are just more emotionally expressive. The second study examined family expressiveness and gender role to determine whether these characteristics can help to account for expressive differences between men and women.
In both studies, women were more facially expressive than men of both positive and negative emotions. In addition, women reported a more expressive disposition than men on a self-report survey about expressivity.
In the area of gender role, male and female participants endorsing a high number of characteristics traditionally associated with both masculinity and femininity were more facially expressive. They also reported having a more expressive disposition than participants reporting only a high number of either masculine or feminine characteristics.
"We decided to see if maybe sex isn't the important variable in emotional expressiveness since there are such predominant stereotypes about sex and emotion. Maybe it's not sex that contributes to these emotion differences, but something called gender role," Kring says.
A feminine gender role includes such characteristics as nurturing, affectionate, warm, caring; a masculine gender role includes attributes such as aggressive, assertive and powerful. Men or women who have a high number of both feminine and masculine characteristics characterize androgynous gender roles.
In both studies, research subjects - all university students - were brought into a laboratory setting individually and told that they were participating in a study of the psychology of movies and what aspect of a movie draws people into the plot.
"We didn't tell them that we were interested in exploring their emotions explicitly because we didn't want the research subjects to be acutely aware of that and then try to modify their behavior," Kring says.
Research subjects were secretly videotaped and electrodes were attached to the palm of their non-dominant palm to measure skin conductance activity, more simply known as palm sweating. All participants were informed of the full nature of the study following the sessions.
Kring's research interests are in the areas of emotion and psychopathology, particularly schizophrenia. She is teaching a new course at Vanderbilt in spring 1999 titled "Emotion." Kring received her bachelor's degree from Ball State University and her master's and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
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