Doing Life Together

ID-100139663When my husband and I watch a movie that has a strong emotional story line, I seem to be more moved by the story. For example, the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan felt traumatizing to me. I kept whispering in my husband’s ear, “Make it stop. It’s too much.”

Is this because women are sensitized to emotions more so than men, or is it because of differences in the way men and women process emotion?

A study from the University of Basel looked at gender differences in emotional processing to help answer this question. In their study, men and women were shown images of emotional and neutral content. Women rated the emotional images as more emotionally stimulating than men, especially the negative images.  When the images were neutral, there were no gender differences in the ratings.

When both genders were given a memory test following the exposure to emotional images, women remembered them better than men. This was especially true for the positive images. The reseachers believe this is due to differences in how emotions are processed in the brain of men and women.

Looking at fMRI images of the male and female brains, the researchers saw increased activity in motor regions of women’s brains linked to those emotionally stimulating images.

According to one of the researchers, these findings may help us understand why women are more prone to depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress, all of which involve emotional dysregulation. If women have stronger reactivity to negative emotional images and remember them better than men do, this could help explain those gender differences.

Maybe this is why I had to close my eyes during the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan and was so much more bothered by the massacre on Omaha Beach. I was more emotionally stimulated, expressed those emotions and could recall them better than my husband.


Source:Klara Spalek, Matthias Fastenrath, Sandra Ackermann, Bianca Auschra, XDavid Coynel, Julia Frey, Leo Gschwind, Francina Hartmann, Nadine van der Maarel, Andreas Papassotiropoulos, Dominique de Quervain and Annette MilnikSex-Dependent Dissociation between Emotional Appraisal and Memory: A Large-Scale Behavioral and fMRI StudyJournal of Neuroscience (2015) | doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.2384-14.2015

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