When it comes to emotions, women always tend to be emotional than men. Men always set themselves as the rational, cool-headed thinkers, while women are more sympathetic to the emotional plight of others. A new study, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology and conducted by researchers at the Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal and the University of Montreal, has found that subtle differences in brain function affect how the sexes respond to negative imagery.
For the study, researchers recruited 46 participants (25 female and 21 male) and ruled out potential contributing factors like age differences, education levels, marital status, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Each volunteer was subjected to a blood test at the beginning of the study to assess varying levels of estrogen and testosterone in order to see how they contributed to results. After the blood tests, participants were exposed to images that evoked positive, negative, or neutral emotions while undergoing MRI brain scans. Participants were also asked to review their emotional responses when looking at the images.
Overall, women reported being more reactive to the emotional images. Meanwhile, higher levels of testosterone were found most frequently associated with lowered sensitivity to the images, while regardless of the person’s sex, higher estrogen levels, almost always meant increased sensitivity.
When looking at the brain’s reaction to the images, the researchers found that the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and amygdala on the right hemisphere of the brain were activated in both sexes when viewing the images. However, the connection between these two parts of the brain was found to be stronger in men, leading to more interaction between the two parts and further decreased sensitivity to emotional stimuli.
The researchers explained that the reactions of amygdala and the dmPFC say a lot about how a person processes emotion. The amygdala is known as the part of the brain that detects threat, and often fires when a person is exposed to fear or sadness, while the dmPFC helps process social interactions and mediates perception, emotions and reasoning.
Women are more prone to talk about what they are thinking and feeling and to demonstrate how they are feeling with their tears, facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language. Many women seem to be more comfortable figuring out how they feel by talking through it.
Men, generally speaking, tend to process their emotions inwardly. Many times, they don’t know exactly how they feel, so they try to figure it out on their own, inside their head. Some men are afraid of their emotions and keep them buried inside in order to protect themselves from looking weak.
Women have a much better memory than men, especially when there’s an emotional component. Women attach their memories to their emotions – and also to their defense mechanisms. Your woman has specific memories of you. She remembers who you have been, and everything you’ve done in the past. She still reacts to those memories, and she operates and makes decisions, based on her memories of who you were a year ago, and three years ago, and five years ago.
If you hurt her feelings last year by acting in a particular way or if you said something unkind, that pain still lives in her. She feels the possibility that you could do it again – even if you’ve changed significantly since that time. Her decisions and reactions are based on all of those memories – including her subconscious ones – as if you were those people, unchanged, today. It’s just feminine nature. It’s a very strong influence on her feelings and her reactions. Most women don’t differentiate by time when it comes to emotions – their emotions are all tied together across time. They re-experience their previous emotions as if they were all happening now – and this can be quite intense.
If a situation today is at all similar (in any way) to what happened in the past, then emotionally, this situation equals that situation. In computers, this is called ‘fuzzy logic.’ In the brain, it’s called ‘the cortex’s associative matrix.’
Men process emotions and emotional memory very differently. It’s not better – just different. Men don’t carry a gestalt that combines incidents-plus-feelings-plus-people-plus-consequences that women live with all the time. When a man experiences something emotional, it’s simply related to the facts of the matter at the moment. He will typically look for a direction he can move things or a structure he can correct, in order to get past it.
Men see events as discrete from each other (even if they’re not). Women correlate their feelings to the structure and evolution of the relationship, and they project it forward into the future of the relationship, and its expected development. Men interpret things simply. They look to see whether they feel good at the moment, and whether their woman is happy at the moment.
Women experience events as a huge set of related constructs and dominoes that all correlate across time. ‘If he did this and that, it means this and this, and that. And that’s going to mean this… and this means that could happen, and because of what happened ten years ago, it’s going to mean that too. And then we’re going to have children, and they’re going to grow up and be like this because of that, and then my friends will think this about it, and they’ll react in that way, and my God, then what will happen?
This kind of thinking and speaking is totally baffling to men. A man’s thought process is more linear: this, then this, then this, then that. Women experience everything multidimensionally.
From a woman’s point of view, the way women process information and feelings makes perfect sense. To men, it’s like an alien language. These processes are just very different from each other. They have the potential of being complementary and supportive of each other, which starts with understanding.
When it comes to information about relationships, women can run rings around most men. They understand thousands of facets and dimensions of relationships, and consider them all at the same time, including all the nuances of personal and interpersonal relationships, expectations of social and interpersonal decorum, etc. And this ability is built right into their energetic DNA. It’s the world they live in.
However, these differences must be understood and accepted. Otherwise, when a man attempts to communicate with a woman on an emotionally-loaded issue, he’s likely to be overwhelmed by the woman’s rapid-fire communication. He’ll go into information overload. She’s going to say, ‘What about this, and this, and this, and this?’ He won’t be able to deal with all of those complexities, because he can’t process all of the emotional dimensions as quickly as she can rattle them off.
He’s going to think she’s being defensive, or that she’s talking gibberish, or she’s adding extraneous information. As a result, he might get angry and frustrated, or try to shut down the conversation. All she’s doing is communicating her emotional reality. She’s living it from moment to moment, and she assumes that it’s all vital information he needs to know. She’s trying to deal with what she sees as his lack of understanding of the emotional reality of the situation. She wants to establish a clear, trustworthy and shared understanding of the situation that they can both work from and negotiate from.
It’s how she understands the world, and how she makes decisions, moment by moment. It’s how she takes care of her own well-being, self-esteem, and her own place in society. It’s how she cares for and manages all of her relationships.
Before you share anything that could be emotional wounding, you need to imagine how your partner might perceive it. Imagine that you’re her, and project yourself into her female body. Feel what it will feel like for her to hear what you have to say. Feel the impact on her emotional body. Then spend time thinking about how you might be able to buffer the communication so your partner can receive it. It’s not easy, but it will save you a lot of processing time later. And it’s also a good idea to create a protective structure for those kinds of conversations. Have an objective third person there with you, such as a friend or therapist. Or specify rules of engagement in advance. Create structures for communication safety.
Women really want to see the good in their men. They try hard to replace and over-write past memories of hurts and discomforts. Their complex emotional process is truly a miracle, an intuitive marvel. It’s what makes relationships possible, and beautiful, and improve over time. But when they get triggered, all those emotional memories can come up automatically. Once that process is engaged, there aren’t any easy alternatives.
Men are not really designed to interact constructively with women’s triggered emotional processes. It’s possible for men to improve in this area, and it’s possible for women to heal their tendency to react in this way, but it takes some wisdom and finesse on both sides. The solution is for both men and women to proactively disassemble the non-helpful elements of their communication and emotional processes, and to constructively shift their communication system so that they no longer interact in ways that produce pain in the first place.
Babchuk, W. A., Hames, R. B., & Thompson, R. A. (1985). Sex differences in the recognition of infant facial expressions of emotion: The primary caretaker hypothesis.Ethology and Sociobiology, 6, 89–101.
Mendrek A, Potvin S, Lungu O, et al. Sex differences in effective fronto-limbic connectivity during negative emotion processing. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015.
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