It is not a compliment to call someone “emotional.” We incorrectly see emotion as the opposite of the “rational” or “effective,” even though neuroscientists have long known that emotion is what drives intelligent thought.
Now scientists have just revealed another area where we get emotion completely wrong. Despite centuries of stereotypes, a new study finds that men are just as emotional as women. Men have the same ups and downs, highs and lows as women do. And that is good news for all of us.
Women are NOT more emotional than men
Why are we all so sure that women are more emotional than men? There are two main reasons:
First, there is a long history of classifying emotion in a pejorative way and then blaming that on the uterus. In the 19th century, women were considered prone to a uniquely female problem: hysteria. The idea was that women were emotional and unstable and likely to develop behavioral problems, and men couldn’t be because they didn’t have a uterus. Hysterical females were often treated with hysterectomies.
In the 20th century, women have largely been excluded from research (even that used to understand women). Seriously. According to the study authors, this was “partly due to the assumption that ovarian hormone fluctuations lead to variation, especially in emotion, that could not be experimentally controlled.” Those hormonal women were just too unpredictable to be studied. So instead of using science to find out if these assumptions about emotions and female hormones were true, researchers simply ignored women and studied men instead.
Second is the real difference between men and women’s emotionality. Specifically, we describe men’s and women’s emotions in biased ways. As the study’s senior author Adriene Beltz, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, shared in a press release, a man whose emotions fluctuate during a sporting event is described as “passionate.” But a woman whose emotions change due to any event, even if provoked, is considered “irrational.”
Just look at all of these examples of men not being emotional.
Here are a father and son not being emotional while they hug:
And this man is definitely NOT getting emotional about his Xbox game.
Getting back to the science, in order to observe the emotionality of men vs. women, Beltz and colleagues recorded the positive and negative emotions of 142 men and women over 75 days. To control for the influence of those pesky female hormones, the researchers followed four groups of women: naturally cycling and those on three different forms of oral contraceptives.
Using a variety of measurements for emotionality, the researchers could find no significant difference between any of the groups. Men’s emotions varied to the same degree that the women’s did.
“We also didn’t find meaningful differences between the groups of women, making clear that emotional highs and lows are due to many influences—not only hormones,” said Beltz in the press release.
Emotion during breakups
In further support for the emotional equality of the sexes, another new research study finds that not only are men just as emotional as women, they may be more emotional during breakups.
In the analysis of 184,000 people who posted about their relationships to an anonymous online forum, researchers found that men discussed their feelings of heartbreak or sadness significantly more than the women did.
The researchers had seen the study as a way to “put a lot of common ideas about gender differences in relationships to the test,” as Ryan Boyd, the lead researcher said in a press release. But they were still surprised by their findings, which undermine the stereotype that women are more emotionally invested in relationships than men.
Being emotional is good news for men
So men are emotional, just like women. This should not come as a surprise to any of us. But it may, because our views are so profoundly influenced by centuries of stereotypes. Given the increasing evidence that emotion is integral to producing innovative thinking, those stereotypes are not only irrelevant, they are holding us back. In order to be truly effective, all genders can embrace their emotionality and see it as the biological driver for thought that it is.
And that means it’s time to start calling women passionate, and reclaiming the word emotional. It’s time to stop apologizing for “getting emotional,” which people only do about things that matter deeply to them. Both men and women can benefit by dumping our misguided and scientifically inaccurate ideas about gender, emotion, and rationality. Because the deep work of strategic thinking is always driven by passionate emotion.
Women in Technology Careers Face Many Barriers
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