Men and Women Respond Differently to Stress
gender play a major role in how people respond to stress, according to
a new study on 20-to-64-year-olds. Published in the journal
Psychophysiology, the investigation was led by scientists from the
Université de Montréal and the Montreal Heart Institute
in collaboration withcolleagues from the Université du
Québec à Montréal and McGill University.
suggest that women who are more defensive are at increased
cardiovascular risk, whereas low defensiveness appears to damage the
health of older men," says Bianca D'Antono, a professor at the
Université de Montréal Department of Psychiatry and a
Montreal Heart Institute researcher.
is a trait characterized by avoidance, denial or repression of
information perceived as threatening. In women, a strong defensive
reaction to judgment from others or a threat to self-esteem will result
in high blood pressure and heart rate. Contrarily, older men with low
defensive reactions have a higher cardiovascular rates.
The study was
conducted on 81 healthy working men and 118 women. According to Dr.
Jean-Claude Tardif a Université de Montréal professor and
Montreal Heart Institute researcher, the physiological response to
stress in women and older men is linked to this desire of maintaining
self-esteem and securing social bonds.
"The sense of
belonging is a basic human need," says D'Antono. "Our findings suggest
that socialization is innate and that belonging to a group contributed
to the survival of our ancestors. Today, it is possible that most
people view social exclusion as a threat to their existence. A strong
defensive reaction is useful to maintain one's self-esteem faced with
this potential threat."
As part of
the experiment, participants completed four tasks of varying stress
levels. The first task involved reading a neutral text on Antarctica's
geography before a person of the same sex. The second and third tasks
involved role-playing in which participants followed a script where
they were sometimes agreeable and sometimes aggressive. The final task
involved a non-scripted debate on abortion.
and blood pressure were measured during each of these tasks as was the
level of cortisol in saliva. Results showed that women and older men
had elevated cardiovascular, autonomic and endocrine responses to
stress -- all potentially damaging to their health. The research team
cautions, however, that more studies are needed to evaluate the
long-term effects of defensiveness and its association to stress
response patterns in disease development.
was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the
Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.
For more information on the University of Montreal, visit www.umontreal.ca/english/index.html.