It is well known that women are more likely to develop major depression disorders, various forms of anxiety disorder, and PTSD, all of which are aspects of emotional dysregulation. These are often presenting problems requiring careful assessment in couples therapy. It is not surprising that researchers from University of Basel, (whose research will soon publish published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Neuroscience), have announced the results of a new study in which women were determined to be more emotionally stimulated than men when viewing negative pictures.
This research seem to support a commonly held belief often heard in couple’s therapy that men are less emotionally sensitive than women “and according to study head Annette Milnik of the University of Basel, “provides evidence for gender differences on the neural level.”
The study was conducted with almost 3400 men and women ranging in age from 18 to 38 years old. First, they were shown pictures of natural scenes that were categorized as positive, neutral or negative. For example, they showed pictures of accidents (negative), kittens (positive), and houses (neutral).
Research on Emotions and Gender
The participants scored the pictures on how positive, negative or neutral they seemed, and then how emotionally aroused they were upon viewing it. The men rated the negative and positive images as having less impact than the women in the study.
Memories, were also tested. After distracted their attention for about 10 minutes, researchers then asked the men and women to remember some of the images they saw. Men consistently did a poorer job them women men on recalling all types of pictures.
When researchers also looked at fMRI data from 696 of the participants, they discovered that men had less brain activation, particularly in motor areas, than women looking at the identical images.
Previous research has already taught us that people tend to better remember emotionally stimulating images, and that women do tend to outperform men on most memory tests. In fact, women were superior in all forms of recall; positive, negative, and neutral images, but particularly in positive ones. This new research suggests that the difference in emotional recall may be due to fundamental operational differences between the sexes. What is not known is to what degree this distinction is biological, or impacted by the different social development of men and women.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.