ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The stereotype that women are more reactionary and prone to emotional outbursts than men has persisted for a long, long time. According to researchers from the University of Michigan however, this common belief is just a myth. As far as why the stereotype has such longevity, study authors explain it all comes down to how people interpret the emotions women and men display.
The team says that when a man becomes emotional while watching sports, others usually see this person as “passionate.” However, if a woman becomes emotional for any number of reasons, the team says people generally consider that woman “irrational” or “hysterical.”
Researchers add that people interpret strong emotions like enthusiasm, nervousness, or strength very differently depending whether they come from a man or woman.
Their study tracked a group of 142 men and women over a period of 75 days, recording each person’s daily emotions. The team separated women into four sub-groups: one naturally cycling while the other three used different forms of oral contraceptives.
They noted and recorded emotional fluctuations via three different avenues and then compared them across genders. Ultimately, researchers recorded little to no emotional differences between the male participants and any of the four female groups. This indicates, study authors say, that the average man’s emotions change and fluctuate just as much as the average woman. However, it is likely that those fluctuations are the result of different factors for a man versus a woman.
“We also didn’t find meaningful differences between the groups of women, making clear that emotional highs and lows are due to many influences—not only hormones,” senior study author Adriene Beltz, U-M assistant professor of psychology, says in a university release.
Undoing scientific stereotypes about women
Besides the obvious everyday implications of this work, the research team explains this study also challenges long-held scientific practices. For decades, scientists have excluded women from various research initiatives due to the belief that ovarian hormone fluctuations cause emotional fluctuations that are unideal for research purposes.
“Our study uniquely provides psychological data to show that the justifications for excluding women in the first place (because fluctuating ovarian hormones, and consequently emotions, confounded experiments) were misguided,” Prof. Beltz concludes.
The findings appear in the journal Nature.