Scientists may have recently discovered water on Mars, but it isn’t the leftover tears from men who come from there.
New research suggests men are less reactionary to negative emotions because the signals spend more time in the part of the brain associated with reasoning.
Researchers at Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal and the University of Montreal studied 46 healthy people by having them view images that could evoke positive, negative, or neutral emotions.
Their brain activity was measured with brain imaging. Blood tests were used to determine changes in hormone levels.
Women were more likely to rate images as negative, but higher testosterone levels — regardless of a person’s sex — were associated with higher sensitivity.
While the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and amygdala were lighting up in both sexes, the connection between these two parts of the brain were stronger in men than in women.
The amygdala works as the brain’s threat detector while the dmPFC is involved in cognitive functioning, such as perception, reasoning, and emotional regulation. When men viewed images, these areas interacted more and men reported less sensitivity to negative images.
“A stronger connection between these areas in men suggests they have a more analytical than emotional approach when dealing with negative emotions,” study coauthor Stéphane Potvin, an associate professor at University of Montreal’s department of psychiatry, said in a press release. “It is possible that women tend to focus more on the feelings generated by these stimuli, while men remain somewhat ‘passive’ toward negative emotions, trying to analyze the stimuli and their impact.”
The research was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
How Emotional Processing Plays Out
Jennifer Musselman, an executive coach and life therapist with a master’s degree in clinical psychology who was not involved in the study, said this stronger brain connection and higher levels of testosterone suggest men are more likely to have a calm, cool, and collected response to adversity.
In couples, a woman can readily identify and access her emotions much more quickly than a man.
“If a man does not physically and verbally express the same emotional urgency, a female partner might assume he doesn’t care about the upsetting event,” Musselman told Healthline. “But in fact, he is more readily assessing the situation at hand before determining his feelings about it and considering his response.”
Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist and relationship coach, says women, in general, also have larger limbic systems than men, which influences emotions and motivations and thereby allows women to be more in touch with and able to act on their emotions.
“They bring empathy into their thinking and are more comprehensive in the way they look at situations, while men tend to exclude any information that they don’t believe is essential,” Coleman told Healthline. “This certainly helps explain why women talk through and express feelings in order to find solutions, and males become impatient with this as they find it distracting, repetitive, and nonessential.”
While some men view women’s thinking as “illogical,” Coleman said, they’re often examining variables they consider important while problem solving.
“A man’s smaller limbic system also helps explain how men can act very quickly in an
emergency while women are slower to respond,” she said.
This, naturally, can create confusion and lead to miscommunication.
Risk and Emotion in Leadership
The new research from Montreal suggests that men’s neuro-circuitry and higher levels of testosterone makes men naturally wired to deal with fears when it comes to launching a business.
This makes men more primed to be the bigger risk takers, which help explains the higher number of male entrepreneurs than women, Musselman said.
“Conversely, we may see fewer female entrepreneurs not just due to social conditioning and societal oppression, but rather due to a woman’s brain accessing their fear more immediately and having more time to sit with the fear in its purest state without being diluted with cognitive reasoning,” she said.
Understanding Each Other’s Brains
Dr. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College and the author of The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life, said it’s useful for both sexes to learn how the other processes emotions.
If it’s used for empathy, that’s a good thing. The problem, she said, is when it’s used to be categorizing or dismissive.
“It can be undermining if you take it to the extreme,” Saltz told Healthline. “Much of the anger in couples comes from a lack of understanding.”
Taking into effect how environment can turn genes off and on as well as previous emotional experience such as a traumatic event, there’s still a wide variation between individual people.
“Your brains are being changed by your experience,” Saltz said.