Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women

Date:
March 17, 2014
Source:
Sissa Medialab
Summary:
Stressed males tend to become more self-centered and less able to distinguish their own emotions and intentions from those of other people. For women the exact opposite is true. Stress, this problem that haunts us every day, could be undermining not only our health but also our relationships with other people, especially for men. Stressed women, however, become more “prosocial” according to new research.

Stressed males tend to become more self-centered and less able to distinguish their own emotions and intentions from those of other people. For women the exact opposite is true. Stress, this problem that haunts us every day, could be undermining not only our health but also our relationships with other people, especially for men. Stressed women, however, become more “prosocial,” according to new research.

Related Articles


These are the main findings of a study carried out with the collaboration of Giorgia Silani, from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste. The study was coordinated by the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Unit of the University of Vienna and saw the participation of the University of Freiburg. This is the main finding of a study just published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, carried out with the collaboration of SISSA in Trieste.

"There's a subtle boundary between the ability to identify with others and take on their perspective -- and therefore be empathic -- and the inability to distinguish between self and other, thus acting egocentrically" explains Silani. "To be truly empathic and behave prosocially it's important to maintain the ability to distinguish between self and other, and stress appears to play an important role in this."

Stress is a psycho-biological mechanism that may have a positive function: it enables the individual to recruit additional resources when faced with a particularly demanding situation. The individual can cope with stress in one of two ways: by trying to reduce the internal load of "extra" resources being used, or, more simply, by seeking external support. "Our starting hypothesis was that stressed individuals tend to become more egocentric. Taking a self-centred perspective in fact reduces the emotional/cognitive load. We therefore expected that in the experimental conditions people would be less empathic" explains Claus Lamm, from the University of Vienna and one of the authors of the paper.

The surprise was that our starting hypothesis was indeed true, but only for males. In the experiments, conditions of moderate stress were created in the laboratory (for example, the subjects had to perform public speaking or mental arithmetic tasks, etc.). The participants then had to imitate certain movements (motor condition), or recognise their own or other people's emotions (emotional condition), or make a judgement taking on another person's perspective (cognitive condition). Half of the study sample were men, the other half were women.

"What we observed was that stress worsens the performance of men in all three types of tasks. The opposite is true for women" explains Silani.

Why this happens is not yet clear. "Explanations might be sought at several levels," concludes Silani. "At a psychosocial level, women may have internalized the experience that they receive more external support when they are able to interact better with others. This means that the more they need help -- and are thus stressed -- the more they apply social strategies. At a physiological level, the gender difference might be accounted for by the oxytocin system. Oxytocin is a hormone connected with social behaviours and a previous study found that in conditions of stress women had higher physiological levels of oxytocin than men."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Sissa Medialab. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. L. Tomova, B. von Dawans, M. Heinrichs, G. Silani, C. Lamm. Is stress affecting our ability to tune into others? Evidence for gender differences in the effects of stress on self-other distinction. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2014; 43: 95 DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.006

Cite This Page:

Sissa Medialab. "Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140317095927.htm>.
Sissa Medialab. (2014, March 17). Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140317095927.htm
Sissa Medialab. "Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140317095927.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Binge-Watching TV Linked To Loneliness

Binge-Watching TV Linked To Loneliness

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) Researchers at University of Texas at Austin found a link between binge-watching TV shows and feelings of loneliness and depression. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Signs You Might Be The Passive Aggressive Friend

Signs You Might Be The Passive Aggressive Friend

BuzzFeed (Jan. 28, 2015) "No, I&apos;m not mad. Why, are you mad?" Video provided by BuzzFeed
Powered by NewsLook.com
City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

The Toronto Star (Jan. 27, 2015) Model schools are rethinking how they engage with the community to help enhance the lives of the students and their parents. Video provided by The Toronto Star
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Saves Pennies For 65 Years

Man Saves Pennies For 65 Years

Rooftop Comedy (Jan. 26, 2015) A man in Texas saved every penny he found for 65 years, and this week he finally cashed them in. Bank tellers at Prosperity Bank in Slaton, Texas were shocked when Ira Keys arrived at their bank with over 500 pounds of loose pennies stored in coffee cans. After more than an hour of sorting and counting, it turned out the 81 year-old was in possession of 81,600 pennies, or $816. And he&apos;s got more at home! Video provided by Rooftop Comedy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins