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Men in arguments really do not care says Vienna study

When men and women argue the frequent complaint from a woman is that the man doesn't care, and according to the latest research by scientists in Vienna that is completely true. Women, they say, automatically become more sensitive, whereas at the same time men automatically cut off all excessive emotions and become self-absorbed and egocentric.

Psychologists from the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Department at the University of Vienna looked at the impact of stress caused by such things as exams, relationship problems and terrifying movies and found that the reaction of the sexes was very different.

The report published in the Psychoneuroendocrinology journal found that in women stress led to them becoming far more sensitive and emphatic, in which they were far more alert to the body language and signals given out by those around them. In men however it had the opposite effect as they became self absorbed and egocentric.

The psychologists reported: "Stress mobilises an organism to help overcome certain extreme situations but it is clear that this has very different effects on men and women."

In women for example stress caused them to become more sensitive and they would reach out to friends in order to help them cope. The male reaction however meant that they turned inwards and became islands cut off from others.

Women were also more capable of reading the reactions of those around them, whereas men became less capable of reading and understanding the perspective of others.

Researcher Livia Tomova from the University of Vienna said: "It was clear that social interaction skills improve in women under stress, they become more emphatic towards others. However, men tend to take the sink or swim attitude and this makes them more self-centred and egocentric."

In the study 40 men and 40 women had to give a public presentation as well as complete mathematical questions under time pressure. Pulse frequency recorded from the people showed whether it was a stressful situation as did the measuring of the stress hormone Cortisol.

Professor Claus Lamm, from the University of Vienna, and one of the authors of the paper said: "When faced with a particularly demanding situation and one likely to call stress, we hypothesised that individuals need to try and reduce the load either by reducing the internal requirements of "extra" resources being used, or by seeking external support.

"Our starting hypothesis was that stressed individuals tend to become more egocentric. Taking a self-centred perspective in fact reduces the emotional cognitive load. We therefore expected that in the experimental conditions people would be less empathic.

"The surprise was that our starting hypothesis was indeed true, but only for males. In the experiments, conditions of moderate stress were created in the laboratory. The participants then had to imitate certain movements (motor condition), or recognise their own or other people's emotions (emotional condition), or make a judgement taking on another person's perspective (cognitive condition). Half of the study sample were men, the other half were women.

"What we observed was that stress worsens the performance of men in all three types of tasks. The opposite is true for women.

The research team concluded: "At a psychosocial level, women reach out for more external support and are able to interact better with others. This means that the more they need help - and are thus stressed - the more they apply social strategies. At a physiological level, the gender difference might be accounted for by the oxytocin system. Oxytocin is a hormone connected with social behaviours and a previous study found that in conditions of stress women had higher physiological levels of oxytocin than men."

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