Stress makes men more social

Experiment disproves common doctrine from aggressive stressed man

Team work also under stress Claus Rebler
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Men do not automatically become more aggressive under stress than previously thought. Instead, like women, they often respond more socially in stressful situations than in a relaxed atmosphere. Researchers at the University of Freiburg have found this out. In several volunteer experiments, they examined how positive social behavior, such as trust or sharing, and socially negative behavior, such as punishment, changed under stress. The result: The men under stress behaved more socially than their non-stressed peers, but they did not respond more aggressively. This result refutes an almost 100-year-old doctrine, as the researchers in the journal "Psychological Science" report.

By popular belief, humans and most animal species exhibit a typical fight-or-flight response when they are stressed: they are more aggressive or anxious than normal. However, women sometimes react differently to stress: for example, a stressful situation can promote friendships and selfless behavior. This was already shown in studies in the 1990s. Men, on the other hand, were still thought to be aggressive in stress.

The new results refute this now. On the contrary, they support the idea that even men in threatening situations tend to move closer together and then increasingly support each other within the group. "Apparently, men also show social rapprochement as an immediate consequence of stress, " says first author Bernadette von Dawans of the University of Freiburg. The acute psychosocial stress in the experiment has increased the confidence, the trustworthiness and the willingness to share with others among the men.

Stress through lecture and math tasks

In their study, the researchers initially exposed 34 men to a stressful situation: the subjects had to solve demanding arithmetic tasks under time pressure and present a text in front of an audience. A second group of men spent this time with much less stressful tasks. To determine the stress level of all subjects, the researchers measured the pulse and determined the content of stress hormones in their saliva.

Immediately thereafter, all men completed several game situations in which social behavior was important. Their play partner was in each case a computer program whose behavior - social or otherwise - was unforeseeable for the subject. In a test, the men should decide if they trust this virtual game partner - without knowing whether this would act fair or not. If they mistrusted the virtual partner in principle, they only received a small sum of play money. If the men were willing to trust the computer partner, and this trust proved justified, they would receive a larger sum. If they were wrong in their assessment, they were left empty-handed. display

In another test, the subject should decide how he would divide a reward sum between himself and a partner - fair or unfair. In a third test, the subject was able to punish their virtual game partner, if this offered an unfair division. This then received no money, the subject but not. Ultimately, the researchers identified the willingness of the men to take action against another, even if it harms them.

As a result, subjects who were under stress showed a significantly more positive social behavior in these tests than subjects in the control group who were not in a stressful situation. In the punishment test, however, there were no differences between the two groups. This social behavior, which was understandable but rather negatively rated by the researchers, was not influenced by the stress, as the scientists report.

(Psychological Science, 22.05.2012 - NPO)