Bad News Affects Women More Negatively Than Men
October 11, 2012

Bad News Affects Women More Negatively Than Men

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

The female and male genders share several broad, general similarities. We´re all human, after all, capable of good and evil and experiencing the full gamut of emotions. It´s when these generalities are dissected that the differences come to light.

For example, researchers at the University of Montreal´s Centre for Studies on Human Stress of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital conducted a survey of both genders and discovered, on the whole, women are more likely to experience more emotions and higher levels of stress when hearing negative stories in the news media than do their male counterparts. As a bonus, the researchers also found women were also more likely to retain the information from a story, more clearly recalling it later.

In a world full of 24-hour news channels, this ability to more deeply retain these stories could be a source of stress for these women, says lead author Marie-France Marin.

“It´s difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there,” explains Marin in the press release. “And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case.”

To conduct their study, the researchers took spit samples from 60 people to set a stress level baseline. To measure the levels of stress, these researchers looked for a hormone called cortisol which is present in saliva. After the baseline was set, these 60 people were then split into 4 groups and asked to read actual, real news stories.

One group of men and one group of women read “neutral” news stories; Fluff pieces, such as new park openings or movie premiers. The other two segregated groups were asked to read “negative” news stories about accidents, deaths or murders. After each group had read the stories assigned to them, the researchers took saliva samples once more to gauge the effects each of the stories had on their stress levels.

Sonia Lupien, Director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress and a professor at the university´s Department of Psychiatry, noted the way the human brain handles stress made the team more curious about the effects the abundance of negative news has on individuals.

“When our brain perceives a threatening situation, our bodies begin to produce stress hormones that enter the brain and may modulate memories of stressful or negative events,” said Lupien in the press release. “This led us to believe that reading a negative news story should provoke the reader´s stress reaction.”

The researchers put the participants through another set of tests before sending them on their way. The next day, the participants were asked back for another round of spit samples to be taken.

“Although the news stories alone did not increase stress levels, they did make the women more reactive, affecting their physiological responses to later stressful situations,” said Marin.

“Moreover, the women were able to remember more of the details of the negative stories. It is interesting to note that we did not observe this phenomenon amongst the male participants.”

Marin suggests further studies should be conducted to fully understand the results of this study and why women were more negatively affected by these news stories. As it stands, the researchers believe there may be some evolutionary factors at work. For instance, Marin says prior research suggests a woman´s stress system may have evolved over thousands of years in order to allow them to feel more empathetic towards those in trouble.

The study appears in the October 10 issue of PLoS ONE.