The sex of emotion

It’s not just our milk that is homogenised these days. Travel to a far flung city of the Orient or to a Scandinavian port and you will find the same fast food outlets glowering at you as you would find in your own street at home. In our haste to cleanse everything from our food to our childhood we have erected monumental regulatory barriers to protect us and yet squash divergence at the same time. So accepting are we of the value of homogeneity that in some quarters it can be uttered that men and women are the same. Without question women and men are equal but just as surely they are different and a new study has illustrated that eloquently.

The study involved almost 3,400 women and men who took part in four separate experiments testing memory and how they processed emotions. Generally women perform better on memory tests than men and these researchers theorised that this might be due to a difference in the way the sexes process emotions. To test this subjects were shown images that were either positively emotional, negatively emotional, or neutral in terms of emotion. They were asked to rate the images and then later undertook memory tests.

Analysis of the results showed that women rate emotional content as more stimulating than men. Additionally, women could recall significantly more images than men especially where the image was a positive one. However, when it came to neutral images there were no differences in recall or appraisal between the sexes.

This suggests that at some level there are fundamental differences in the way women and men process emotions and that this feeds in to recall function. In fact, the researchers took MRI scans of the brains of participants during the testing and found that in processing images women did show greater activity in motor related regions of the brain than men.

Women and men do process the world differently. Medically, this is important in how we approach sex-specific differences in some mental illnesses. On a day to day to level it is a reminder that fundamentally women and men are different; equal-equal but not same-same. That’s the macro level, on the micro level drill down within the sexes and myriad other differences between people emerge. We need to remind ourselves that we are all fundamentally different, and we should celebrate that reality rather than hiding in false homogeneity because in that acceptance of innate diversity lies life.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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