When it comes to stress, it's been a long-held belief that men either fight or flee, while women rely on their social ties for support. But a new study on stress claims to debunk that theory, finding that stress actually makes men trusting and social, and not so different from women after all.
While previous research has found that men take a "fight-or-flight" approach when feeling stressed, a study published last week in the journal Psychological Science finds that men lean on social bonds to cope.
"Apparently men also show social approach behavior as a direct consequence of stress," study researcher Bernadette von Dawans, of the University of Freiburg in Germany, said in a statement.
In the study (which focused only on men), researchers recruited 67 male students from the University of Zurich and subjected the test group to stressful situations, such as public speaking or having to complete a mental math test.
After being stressed, the participants played a series of trust and sharing games with real money at stake with another group of volunteers. The men also completed a dice gambling game, done individually, to measure how much risk they were willing to take. Meanwhile, researchers monitored the men's heart rate and the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva, all while observing their behavior during the games.
Interestingly, the researchers found that stress increased men's gentleness; the higher the men's heart rates and cortisol levels, the more trusting and trustworthy they were in the games. In other words, the stressed men were friendlier and relied on social outlets to cope with the stress.
In the gambling game, control and test groups performed similiarly, meaning that the stress response is tied to social behavior, according to the researchers.
"From previous studies in our laboratory, we already knew that positive social contact with a trusted individual before a stressful situation reduces the stress response," said researcher Markus Heinrichs, coauthor of the study. "Apparently, this coping strategy is anchored so strongly that people can also change their stress responses during or immediately after the stress through positive social behavior."