Women react more to stress than men after reading negative news stories, according to new PLoS ONE study

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You won’t be surprised to hear that Mrs Elf and I have stopped watching the Oak Tree TV News and we’ve also stopped listening to the Woodland Wire on the wireless. Goodness me, the news is always so depressing! “Blah blah blah, chalara ash dieback, blah blah blah, badger cull”. To be honest, we’d rather not put ourselves through all the stress.

It’s much the same with you humans as far as I can tell. Bill Hicks summed it up nicely:

Watch ‘Headline News’ for an hour. It’s the most depressing thing you’ll ever do: war, famine, death, AIDS, homeless, depression, recession, drought, flood, pit bull, war, famine, death, AIDS…

So what impact is this 24-hour news assault having on men and women? Is it physiologically stressful? Do women and men react in the same way?

A small study conducted by researchers in Montreal, Canada, tested 60 French-speaking people (30 women and 30 men) to see how reading bad news affected them, how they performed during a subsequent stressful event, and how well they remembered the negative news the following day.

The researchers randomly assigned the test participants to one of two arms:

  1. Reading 24 real neutral news excerpts for 10 minutes
  2. Reading 24 real negative news excerpts for 10 minutes

All participants then took the Trier Social Stress Test, which consists of a mock job interview followed by verbal and mental arithmetic tasks.

The following day they were telephoned (unexpectedly) and asked to recall as many news items as possible from the newspaper task they were exposed to the day before.

Saliva samples measured cortisol (the stress hormone) at various stages throughout the testing and the participants were also asked to rate how stressful they found the tests.

Here’s what they found:

  • Reading negative news did not lead to a change in cortisol levels (p>0.05)
  • However, reading negative news did lead to a significant increase in cortisol to the subsequent stressor (mock job interview) in women only (p<0.001)
  • Women in the negative news group experienced better memory for the news excerpts compared to men (p<0.01)

The researchers concluded:

These results suggest a potential mechanism by which media exposure could increase stress reactivity and memory for negative news in women.

Well there’s nothing here to get this elf back paying his license fee. I’m going to curl up with some John Hegley poems and a nice cuppa and hope that Mrs Elf doesn’t fret too much about those poor badgers.  It looks like they’re safe for a few months at least!

Link

Marin M-F, Morin-Major J-K, Schramek TE, Beaupré A, Perna A, et al. (2012) There Is No News Like Bad News: Women Are More Remembering and Stress Reactive after Reading Real Negative News than Men. PLoS ONE 7(10): e47189. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047189

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André Tomlin

André Tomlin
André started the Mental Elf website in May 2011. He has worked as an Information Scientist in Mental Health since the late nineties; initially at Oxford University's Centre for Evidence-Based Mental Health and since 2002 as the Managing Director of Minervation Ltd. He loves blogging, social media and elves! He also has established interests in evidence-based healthcare, usability testing and web design.

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