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Men switch off emotionally during rows

Women may actually be right when they accuse men of 'switching off' during a furious tiff. Scientists have found that men effectively 'check out' in stressful situations, while women...

sex and relationships Updated: Sep 30, 2010 17:13 IST

Women may actually be right when they accuse men of 'switching off' during a furious tiff. Scientists have found that men effectively 'check out' in stressful situations, while women become more responsive.



A study by Mara Mather of the University of Southern California in the US and her team looked into how men and women reacted to tense situations.



They found that men who looked at angry faces had diminished activity in the brain regions responsible for understanding how other people felt. Conversely, women showed heightened activity, the Daily Mail reported.



Relationships"These are the first findings to indicate that sex differences in the effects of stress on social behaviour extend to one of the most basic social transactions - processing someone else's facial expression," Mather said according to the journal NeuroReport.

"Under stress, men tend to withdraw socially while women seek emotional support," she added.

Researchers presented evidence that under acute stress, men responded less to facial expressions - particularly fear and anger.

A group of nearly 50 men and women were asked to look at pictures of faces under controlled conditions.

Both groups showed activity in the part of the brain used in basic visual processing and in the parts used to interpret and understand facial expressions.

Then their cortisol levels, a known indication of stress, were manipulated using the cold pressor stress test.

Men under acute stress showed decreased activity not only in the fusiform face area specialised for facial recognition but also decreased coordination among parts of the brain that help us interpret what emotions these faces are conveying.

In a marked sex difference, women under stress showed the opposite.

Mather said: "The study indicates that experiencing acute stress can affect subsequent activity and interactions in brain regions in opposite ways for males and females."