The New Chicken or the Egg Question

There was one part of Tuesday’s lecture that stuck with me…well not only one part, but you know what I mean. We were discussing the differences in sexes when it came to reporting emotions and how women were usually better at reporting their own emotions than men. On top of that, it was mentioned that women’s emotions are experienced at a higher intensity than men. At this point in the conversation, the question was brought forward as to whether the reason women experienced a higher intensity was truly due to biological factors or whether social roles played a part.

I found a study looking at exactly this; Grossman and Wood (1993) examined the sex differences in intensity of emotional experiences through a social role interpretation. In their first experiment they asked 48 male and 37 female undergraduate students to fill out a questionnaire assessing their own emotional experiences. They were then asked to assess their stereotypic beliefs concerning men’s and women’s emotions. Their findings supported previous research in which women reported more intense and frequent emotions compared to men, except for when it came to anger. When it came to assessing their stereotypic beliefs, their findings also supported previous research which found that women believed other women experienced emotions more intensely than men. With their findings Grossman and Wood (1993) brought up an interesting interpretation; they suggested that instead of normative beliefs underlying emotional experiences, emotions underlie perceived norms. With this view, females who reported feeling more intense emotions assumed that other women also experience intense emotions, and the opposite results for men. This underlying assumed consensus may help to explain the results where an individual’s own assessment correlates with their normative beliefs. This study creates a new chicken or the egg question in terms of sex differences in emotions: which came first, social roles or true sex differences in emotional intensity?

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3 thoughts on “The New Chicken or the Egg Question

  1. Sam, this is really cool – and I love how you relate it to the “chicken and egg” idea. I am sure there are cultural norms dictate a lot of the self reports – it would be interesting to see how this idea translates to other cultures, specifically non-Western cultures.

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  2. This is a question I was struggling with myself. My initial reaction is that a lot of sex differences like emotional reactivity are largely socially constructed (stereotypes about masculinity don’t allow men to be emotional). However, these stereotypes had to come from somewhere. There must be some basis of experience that led to this conclusion. In order to reconcile these two ideas, I think that there are likely biological/genetic differences in emotional reactivity, but society makes them out to be larger then they really are.

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  3. Before having read this I too was under the impression that the emotional sensitivity of women was higher, and that that sensitivity itself was caused by social constructs. I think it”s great that the results of this study raised the chicken or the egg question, because it could lead to further exploration of biology behind it. Personally, I am leaning toward social constructs creating this, due to the fact that I can’t see how it would be beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint for women to have more emotional intensity. However I could see that intensity possibly being part of biological maternal role domain, maybe if those intense emotions led to being very tedious about offspring care.

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