June 13, 2014

"Study shows men are more emotionally sensitive than women – they’re just also better at hiding it."

"Scientists asked two groups of volunteers, 15 fathers and 15 mothers, to watch a series of videos while their physiological responses were measured by skin conductance electrodes."
The content was categorised into four topics: blissful, funny, exciting and heart-warming – and experts were surprised to see that men displayed marginally stronger reactions on average to all of the first three.

Even more shocking was the results for the “heart-warming” category, however. The experiment showed that men actually responded twice as much to this content than women.
ADDED: I must note that this news story — in the U.K. Independent — violates the rule that I've long observed: "If you do scientific research into the differences between men and women, you must portray whatever you find to be true of women as superior. And when you read reports about scientific research into the differences between men and women, use the hypothesis that the scientists are following that rule. It makes reading the reports quite humorous.."

I'm especially surprised to see the word "better" in describing what the men do. The men are "hiding" their emotional sensitivity. It would be so easy to portray the hiding as fakery or repression. To say "better" is to imply that hiding emotion is an achievement.

76 comments:

Freeman Hunt said...

I have always suspected this.

Franklin said...

Men are romantics pretending to be realists and women are realists pretending to be romantics?

David said...

I don't know about "more" but the idea that men are emotionally stunted compared to women is ridiculous.

Men are often less sentimental, but not less emotional. And while male displays of emotion are often more restrained, they are nevertheless displayed. Part of the issue is that many women are terrible at reading the emotions of men. Not surprising, given that they have been taught that men lack emotion.

Unknown said...

How about, men are emotionally more sensitive than women but incorporate it into their lives naturally, without self-centered (not meant as a pejorative) or self-serving drama.

George M. Spencer said...

I just read on Drudge that NBC paid Chelsea Clinton $600,000 a year.

You bet I'm emotionally sensitive!

raf said...

Of course this is true. If men weren't generally basically soft-hearted, women wouldn't be able to manipulate them so successfully. And if they couldn't hide it successfully, other men would be able to manipulate them too well.

kwenzel said...

I suppose I shouldn't question this without reading the actual study, but this seems like a leap: "...due to expectations put on them by society." Seems like a stretch that they verified both the intensity of the emotions and extent of damping, but also a purely cultural source for that behavior. Is male stoicism entirely due to cultural expectation?

Suz said...

I am adopting this rule.

Suz said...

I am adopting your rule. Should make my science-y reading much more tolerable.

Nonapod said...

Interesting, but from a scientific standpoint 15 fathers and 15 mothers is a far, far too small a sample size to conclude anything meaningful.

Will said...

There is a difference between having feelings, and letting feeling have control of behavior. I wish I could convince my wife/daughters this...

SGT Ted said...

It was always the rankest sort of sexism and bigotry to call for men to "get in touch with our feelings" and was entirely based on the erroneous notions of sexist supremacist females that know absolutely nothing about what goes on in any mans head in regards to emotions or strong feelings.

Men have such strong feelings that we are taught from a young age to suppress them in favor of rationality, because men are best when they are operating from a rational base with a healthy mix of emotions to backstop and guide rational thought in a moral and thoughtful way.

john said...

This is no revelation to most men. My observation is that women may be more emotionally sensitive to their own children, or even their pupils, but are much less so to people outside their small sphere of sensitivity. Men it seems cast their empathy a little more widely.

OTOH I know plenty of codgers who cast their apathy quite widely. So there's that.

campy said...

Males are too emotional! Womyn must take over all important decision-making jobs!

Ann G said...


Surely in this case, "better" simply refers to the action of hiding emotions. It's not a value judgement, it's just descriptive.

Anonymous said...

Men aren't better at hiding it, we are better at controlling it.

We learn from a young age it's not ok, as a man, to display your emotions. Women learn it's ok.

Which is why women get the reputation of being manipulative.

Æthelflæd said...

Rings true for most of the men in my life.

Mary Beth said...

Is male stoicism entirely due to cultural expectation?

Wouldn't they need to compare the reactions of men from multiple cultures to see how much culture influenced this?

MadisonMan said...

What nonapod said.

30 people? And you seek to make conclusions? I would weep, but I'm hiding emotions right now.

I do find that it's harder to hide emotions as I get older. I will be a big puddle of tears as I walk my daughter down the aisle, should she marry. We'll see how I do at HS graduation tomorrow.

erictrimmer said...

My father taught me this mantra when I was a child: "Conceal it, dont' feel it, don't let it show."

Mark Nielsen said...

I don't think there's a "better/worse" angle here. It's a myth that lack of logical thinking is tied to being emotional -- the emotional part is usually just a substitute justification for the glaring absence of logic.

I do agree with the study's finding, based on my own experience.

rhhardin said...

Men's emotional response isn't that intersting to them.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

"We learn from a young age it's not ok, as a man, to display your emotions"

Not OK to act out your negative emotions. In short, throw a fit or use emotional display to avoid responsibility for one's actions. I have sons, but had they been daughters I would have taught them the same thing.

Anonymous said...

She is running for the POTUS.

"If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement."

It is beginning to look like Christmas.

http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/review/index.html

Shanna said...

I think my brother is more emotional than I am. And little boys can be quite emotional, just in a different way from little girls.

traditionalguy said...

Of course we are more emotional. Controlled Anger is the #1 emotion, and after that we can be taught the rest by brave women.

Unknown said...

"Is male stoicism entirely due to cultural expectation?"

I'm going to say yes since different cultures have different expectations on that.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

How does that old saw go?

Oh, right.

Women are afraid that men will kill them.

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.

Something along those lines, if memory serves.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

SGT Ted said...

Men have such strong feelings that we are taught from a young age to suppress them in favor of rationality...

Dr. Spock meets Mr. Spock

Danno said...

If true, my question to rhhardin is- Should this mean that men shouldn't be allowed to vote either?

Rocketeer said...

We have more upper body strength, too. #YesAllMen

Ann Althouse said...

The question is, why would the ability to feel but hide emotional sensitivity be a trait that would survive and be passed on to males?

It's not enough to say that the culture teaches men to do this. You have to ask what the value of this has been over time.

MaxedOutMama said...

This is always what I was taught growing up, and it certainly matched my experience in life.

It's not just that men have stronger emotions, it's more that men have narrower mental/emotional foci (at any given time). So whereas women naturally have a lot going on in their heads, which allows them to experience emotion without losing control (if they want to do so), men have to control their emotions so as not to get sucked into them and become non-functional.

There's nothing societal about this - it's a biological difference that imposes a social difference. Women can let emotions rage more because they have natural multi-screen viewing in their heads. Men can easily head off on one track and stay there. So men need to learn to control their emotions in the course of daily life in a different way than most women do.

The difference is in the limbic system - women seem to instinctively be able to run several trains of emotional drives at once, whereas men seem to pick the top and go with it.
http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/limbicsystem.html

I remember discussing this with my mother when I was about 11 or 12, and she thought it was because infants and very young children are so vulnerable - you basically need to know their state pretty much all the time. So it's an adaptive difference.

Probably hormones affect the functioning of the limbic system to allow women to successfully operate several emotional drives at once. That's the best explanation I've ever heard.

Women think men aren't in touch with their emotions only because men are compartmentalizing (picking up and putting down) concerns based on whatever they are doing at the time, whereas women instinctively don't tend to do that.

The two women I knew who were very strongly on the male spectrum of this type of mental functioning were lesbians, and I don't think they were political lesbians, but genuine lesbians. There are natural differences, but this is one of the strong male/female dichotomies.

One of these women I know well. She is a very brilliant person for whom I have high respect. She is sexually functional with men, but she's just not interested - for her, women are the intriguing "other". She automatically and intuitively understands men, but women are an interesting and intriguing puzzle to her. She has Asperger's and probably her mind can't run the female norm, although there's nothing hormonally or biologically wrong with her.

So I do think that some with a same-sex orientation have a real organic difference. For that particular person, I think that if she ever does find a compatible female her life would be better balanced because her cognitive universe would be more complete.

rhhardin said...

Women are washed this way and that by their tiny emotions.

Men give theirs a rudder.

Matt Sablan said...

Since I was a kid, society has told me it is OK for men to cry. Society has taught me to show emotions, in fact, society has tried to train me that being an emotional man is the correct, most manly pursuit.

I simply don't feel the need to be as expressive as society has told me I should be.

Henry said...

And rats are capable of regret.

Are male rats better at regret than female rats?

Henry said...

To append my sarcastic rat comment: This study seems to be missing a theory of mind. I'm totally unconvinced that physiological response = emotional intensity. It's like saying the best athlete is the one who sweats the most.

I'm pretty sure that men sweat more than women, too.

SJ said...

@Ann, @raf, @MaryBeth, @RalphHyatt,

I can remember one interesting marker of cultural change.

When reading Homer (Iliad and Odyssey), I notice that the men weep deeply over their comrades, and show other emotions openly. Part of the great nature of the great men is their great emotions. And their open display of emotion.

Much later, a Roman poet named Virgil wrote The Aeneid. Aeneas, hero of that work, has a stoic attitude. He contains his emotion, in order to lead his men better.

While the emotive activities of men have waxed and waned in other cultural works since then, I think you can tell which version of masculinity is more dominant in American and Western European culture.

Æthelflæd said...

Franklin said...
"Men are romantics pretending to be realists and women are realists pretending to be romantics?"

Nailed it. Wasn't there a study recently that purported to demonstrate that men take breakups much harder?

I think men are more sentimental, too.

SJ said...

@maxedoutmama

Interesting thought.

To continue with my earlier comments: Homer's Odyssey and Iliad may hark back to times when there was less cultural need for men to corral/contain their emotions.

Even though the poems name many cities, I suspect that the intra-city (and inter-city) organization of those old cities was less complex than the intra-city complexity seen in Rome when Virgil was writing.

Similarly, the poetry and tales of the Germanic/Nordic/Icelandic peoples is from a culture that had less formal complexity, and few-to-no large urban centers. It has similar ranges of public display of emotion as the old Homeric epics.

There may be a biological base for the differences in emotive responses of men and women, but there also appear to be cultural adaptations. Certain environments favor one kind of male emotional response, especially among powerful leaders and warriors.

Other environments (especially environments which have large urban centers dominating the culture) favor a different kind of male emotional response.

tim maguire said...

erictrimmer said...My father taught me this mantra when I was a child: "Conceal it, dont' feel it, don't let it show."

I hear that from my daughter at least 5 times a day. What I heard from my father was, "don't cry or I'll give you something to cry about."

Unknown said...

"The question is, why would the ability to feel but hide emotional sensitivity be a trait that would survive and be passed on to males?

It's not enough to say that the culture teaches men to do this. You have to ask what the value of this has been over time."

Why does there have to be a particular value that causes something to survive beyond its what everyone else is doing so in order to fit in you do it too.

As SJ said, in the Iliad and the Odyssey the men are much more emotionally expressive than the Romans. Now the ancient Greeks were just as blood thirsty as any Roman, perhaps more so, they just didn't master organized violence as well as the Romans. Did expressing emotion provide the Greeks any advantage over not showing emotion?

Another example of cultural customs that do or do not provide some advantage is men holding hands.

In many Asian countries men who are friends hold hands when walking with each other. To us westerners this is very strange, but to Asians its just the way it is.

bbkingfish said...

" To say "better" is to imply that hiding emotion is an achievement."

An "achievement?" I don't think so.

The author simply is saying that both genders attempt to hide their emotions, and men are more effective at hiding them. Their is no suggestion that this attempt is a conscious objective (on the part of either gender), which surely would have to be the case for greater effectiveness to be an "achievement."

Speaking of effectiveness, in order to be at all convincing, the pedant must take great care always to be correct, and lately, your blather quotient has been approaching 100 percent. I currently am advising my friends in the legal community to be circumspect in their recruitment of UW Law grads.

Æthelflæd said...

Matthew Sablan said...
"Since I was a kid, society has told me it is OK for men to cry. Society has taught me to show emotions, in fact, society has tried to train me that being an emotional man is the correct, most manly pursuit.

I simply don't feel the need to be as expressive as society has told me I should be."

My husband keeps it under wraps because he knows it freaks me out when the emotions run too free.It is one way he shows his love for his family. I appreciate it.

Hagar said...

Well, if you hang around women, it is, and a necessary skill for self-preservation!

eddie willers said...

I cried when I read this.

Meade said...

"watch a series of videos"

I think I see the problem with the study. Sure men are more emotionally sensitive than women. While watching VIDEOS.

David said...

Ann Althouse said...
The question is, why would the ability to feel but hide emotional sensitivity be a trait that would survive and be passed on to males?


I think that's an easy one. It involves fear.

Men have been the physical protectors of the family, tribe, community etc. from physical danger. One way to confront a potential attacker is to show lack of fear. Often this alone will cause the attack not to occur.

Even if the attack does occur, suppressing display of fear (which also helps to suppress the fear itself) can keep you calm enough to respond better. Suppressing fear also helps to maintain courage in your fellows.

Once men learn to suppress fear, a most elemental emotion, they find it easier to suppress other emotions. Since women are less required to suppress fear and other emotions by the demands of tribal safety, the expression becomes a womanly quality, not appropriate for the fighter-defender.

Of course men feel the fear. Very intensely. By and large men will admit the fear after the event is over. There is no shame in that, because they suppressed it during the time the fight was raging.

Skyler said...

Let's be honest. Men do everything more intensely than women. And we control emotions better too.

Freeman Hunt said...

Men are far more sentimental than women. Listen to men speak wistfully about the past. They'll speak wistfully about a fourth grade field day. I've seen men on this very board write wistfully about girlfriends of yore. Women do not do this.

Women only speak wistfully about the past as it regards their own children. "I remember when Johnny was that age..."

Meade said...

"Men are far more sentimental than women. "

I know. Especially when watching videos. It's disgusting.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Let me 2nd MadisonMan at 10:57. Somehow after 40 years of stoicism I suddenly get uh misty at things like talk about kids and graduations and, well, the list gets longer every day. I haven't gone the full-Boehner yet and started weeping but it may be in my future, given the trend.

ALP said...

"It's not enough to say that the culture teaches men to do this. You have to ask what the value of this has been over time".
******
Because to show emotion would possibly signal to another, competing/threatening male, that you were distracted by your feelings and won't hear them as they creep up behind you to clobber you over the head with a rock? OR...too much emotion could find a man goaded into a fight he didn't want to fight...so best to keep control?

I am thinking its a way to manage threat, and violence - both much more prevalent back when life was "short, brutish, and nasty".

Being the larger, stronger side of human race, controlling emotions meant a longer life. And a bonus would be that, when you DID decide to act, your opponent never saw it coming as you surprised the hell out of them.

Gahrie said...

If true, my question to rhhardin is- Should this mean that men shouldn't be allowed to vote either?

Speaking for myself, (the other anti-19th Amendment regular) the reason I support repeal is not that women feel emotions, it is that they cannot control them, and allow the emotions to overwhelm reason.

This study supports my position, not undercuts it.

Lydia said...

The question is, why would the ability to feel but hide emotional sensitivity be a trait that would survive and be passed on to males?

It's not enough to say that the culture teaches men to do this. You have to ask what the value of this has been over time.


Because it helps them get women?

I hate to see a man cry. For one thing, I find it wrenching. And then it makes me think them weak.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

@Ann Althouse:
Ann Althouse said...
The question is, why would the ability to feel but hide emotional sensitivity be a trait that would survive and be passed on to males?


Every answer to that will be a Just So story but a number of them spring to mind. The ability to conceal one's feelings is useful in deception, bluffing, etc, and men who were more skilled at that were more evolutionarily fit. Or maybe the ability to actually supress feelings and act counter to that sentimentality (ie "man up" and make, uh, "hard choices") gave an advantage over those who couldn't overcome feelings of fear, despair, or depression.

The real trick is creating an objective test for any theory of this kind. If you can't, well, that doesn't usually stop anthropologists!


Anonymous said...

To say "better" is to imply that hiding emotion is an achievement.

Well....?

Sorun said...

I have to be man-up about getting teary-eyed on "heart-warming" stuff because my GF will look at me and ask, "What the hell's wrong with you?"

Skyler said...

Until very recently almost all artists, musicians, and poets have been men. In fact art has generally been terrible in modern days when women participate in art more regularly.

SGT Ted said...

In many Asian countries men who are friends hold hands when walking with each other.

Arabs do the handholding thing too. There's a picture of Bush 43 holding the hand of a Saudi prince that illustrates that it is a part of their formal culture. Our tops guys would hold hands with some of their tops guys as a diplomacy gesture when we were in Karbala, Iraq.

SGT Ted said...

Controlling and directing strong emotions allows the male to hunt better and fight better.

If you freak out while hunting you don't eat or you get hurt by the prey and maybe die of infection.

If you freak out on the battlefield, you're killed or you get others killed.

SGT Ted said...

And then it makes me think them weak.

How so?

bleh said...

What time of the month was this study conducted?

stlcdr said...

This is a feminist ploy! Beware, men! It's a Trap!

Well, there has to be some drive to overkill the spider in the bathtub with more than a simple rolled up paper, but to find the most over effective method to meet raw emotional blood coursing through our veins.

Guildofcannonballs said...

"I have always suspected this."

The Hell you have.

Absurd.

People change.

Infants are not the elderly, whatever inferences you may feel good about drawing from the sameness aside.

You ain't no different.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Freeman Hunt said...

I have always suspected this."

I have always suspected tyranny.

Guildofcannonballs said...

The dummies are (our) wondering: but since you be saying you always questioned "tyranny" ain't you'in be guilty too of the same crapness?

No.

When I do it, it has context and is different.

When you do it, it doesn't fit my context hence is evil.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, but: no shit, Sherlock.

Homo sapiens sapiens reproduces sexually, and is spectacularly vulnerable for at least the first decade of life, for those in a state of unaltered nature. Someone has to be overwhelmingly attached to children, very adroit at forming social bonds, navigating the treacherous waters of acceptable behavior, etc. Someone else had better be a m_____f______ badass at bringing down fresh protein to consume without becoming fresh protein to consume themselves.

Guess which one can't afford to dissolve into a puddle of goo every time they feel something?

Jesus Jumped-Up Christ in a Sidecar, why does this need explaining to anyone?

Guildofcannonballs said...

The fact is you folks need repetition.

Frank Sinatra singing "Moon River" contains the greatest note ever noted.

It's the French Horn.

It's the French Horn.

Guildofcannonballs said...

I was never after Frank's rainbow.

So he's a lying fuck, to start.

FUCK FRANK.

Guildofcannonballs said...

I don't forgive unknown.

I want, urgently, to inflict violence on unknown, were it known how to do so.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Forgive me, but: no shit, Sherlock.

Homo sapiens sapiens reproduces sexually, and is spectacularly vulnerable for at least the first decade of life, for those in a state of unaltered nature. Someone has to be overwhelmingly attached to children, very adroit at forming social bonds, navigating the treacherous waters of acceptable behavior, etc. Someone else had better be a m_____f______ badass at bringing down fresh protein to consume without becoming fresh protein to consume themselves.

Guess which one can't afford to dissolve into a puddle of goo every time they feel something?

Jesus Jumped-Up Christ in a Sidecar, why does this need explaining to anyone?
6/14/14, 12:57 PM

Indeed and theory quite the opposite.

Guildofcannonballs said...

so in teh 70's Frank sing's "we're after the same rainbows end" but I ain't being born yet yo Frank.

I AIN'T EVEN BEEN BORN YET YO, SO HOW WE BEING FIGHTING O'VR RAINBOWS YO?

Guildofcannonballs said...

i HATE TO BE PUTTING KNOWLEDGE BUT YOU KNOW YOU FORCE ME:

Desiderata
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952

ken in tx said...

I have always been more sentimental than the women in my life. I learned to hide it because people do not respect men who don't. Note how people ridicule Boehner for tearing up.

Unknown said...

Men are sensitive and not in a good way. Which is why we have more male serial killers out there. Too sensitive with practically no outlet in American society for it.