Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Emotional expressiveness and gender

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Emotional expressiveness and gender:
What is the relationship between gender and emotional expressiveness?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Men and women are often brought up with fairly strict gender roles teaching us what boys and girls should and should not do. In these cultural stereotypes men are raised to be tough, encouraged to be aggressive, told to "man up" and that "boys don't cry". Girls are socialised to be sugar and spice (Chaplin & Aldao, 2013) but mostly just sugar because girls are encouraged to display positive emotions and repress their anger (Chaplin, 2015). These are broad generalisations that reflect Western cultural and social beliefs for how men and women should express themselves.

This chapter defines emotion and emotion expression in the context of gender roles. It will go into depth of why men and women feel bound by social norms that dictate their individual expression of emotion and how these stereotypes are reinforced. It will also cover the impact of these stereotypes on people's well-being and what can be done to reduce the harmful effects these behaviours reinforce.

The focus of this chapter will be on male and female stereotypes because that is what the current literature reflects but will include a small focus on transgender and lesbian, gay and bisexual people in particular as a point for future studies.

Emotional expression[edit | edit source]

Emotion is a conscious, vivid condition experienced uniquely by each individual. Emotion is both something that is experienced and felt, and can be internal cognitions or external displays in physicality (Fischer, 2000). Our emotions can be portrayed in facial expression, vocalisation and postures and are, to an extent, consciously regulated (Chaplin, 2015). For example, your reaction when you found out you had been accepted into university was probably highly unregulated if you were alone and jumping around the room with excitement!

Emotion has five components - behavioural, expressive, experiential, verbal and physiological (Fischer, 2000). With these domains emotional expression has different interpretations such as the actual physical facial expression a person portrays while experiencing an emotion or the verbal cues that demonstrate a consistent pattern over time in a person on how they experience and publicly display emotions. How these patterns come about depends on social, cultural and situational factors (Kring & Gordon, 1998). Although there is a differentiation between experienced and expressed emotions (Fischbach, Lichtenthaler, Horstmann, 2015), which you have probably experienced such as being incredibly upset but having to put on a brave face.

Expressive behaviour also varies depending on the social situation a person finds themselves in. The presence of others either familiar or unfamiliar to you will have an effect on how you regulate and express emotions. The imposed "buffer" is the display rules that people inherently learn in order to be deemed acceptable by others (Kring & Gordon, 1998). An example of this is where you may be loose and free with your expressions and words at a family dinner but keep to yourself and maintain a stoic face when travelling public transport alone.    So why do we experience emotions? The theories of emotion can be narrowed down into three general perspectives:

Evolutionary[edit | edit source]

Darwin described emotional expressions as an underlying emotional state that is communicated outwards through the body (Hess & Thibault, 2009). Emotions must then serve an adaptive purpose to aid organisms in surviving through reproduction (arousal and attraction), protecting their young (anger), maintaining social alliances (happiness) and avoiding threat (fear) (Johnson, 2009).

Social and Cultural[edit | edit source]

This perspective views emotions as learned through individual experience. It poses that emotions occur following or during social interaction and proposes that emotions are only experienced through interaction and not aroused by other stimuli. In society there are also emotional "rules" such as reacting with anger to correct injustice and restore equity (Johnson, 2009).

Cognitive[edit | edit source]

The cognitive perspective looks at emotions as reaction to stimuli which explains how people can respond to the same stimulus with different emotions, or to different stimulus with the same emotions. An example of this is sadness which can be elicited by many different events (Johnson, 2009).

It can be supposed that these three as well as many other theories such as the James-Lange Theory of Emotion contribute to a general understanding that this {{what} is a complicated process. To understand how emotion works in humans research has looked at how it applies to societies two greatest polarities - gender. From a Western perspective, there are differences between the ways men and women express emotions (Panjwani, Chaplin, Sinha & Mayes, 2016). There are many common stereotypes about men and women and emotion such as women being "more emotional" than men. This is not entirely true as can be demonstrated by the emotional displays men do exhibit, such getting riled up watching sports. We've all seen that stereotype either in real life or in the media, but to say women are "too emotional" is synonymous with saying that women cry more or women talk more about their feelings (Fischer, 2000). In a way this is true as women are more likely to freely express their emotions despite men and women experiencing the same level of emotional arousal (Chaplin, 2015).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 The ____________ theory proposes emotion is an adaptive function for survival.


2 Men express their emotions more freely than women.


Gender stereotypes[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. World London Pride, 2012. Both genders face certain disadvantages and hardships in society

Emotional expression in gender is developed by two social models, the predisposed biological temperament and the gender-related socialisation of boys and girls in emotional displays[factual?]. These gender-display rules are global and trend towards women being more emotionally expressive than men[factual?]. However girls are rewarded more for displaying positive emotions and showing empathy and learn to inhibit negative displays like sadness and shame[factual?]. These motivations fit into the traditional roles for women to be caring and nurturing. On the other hand boys have separate display rules which allow them to express more negative emotions, particularly anger. By pushing their anger outwards men are viewed as aggressive, assertive and individualistic which fits into the traditional gender roles that men must be the protectors in their families (Chaplin & Aldao, 2013).

Women smile more and men more frequently display anger[factual?]. Some strong examples of how deep these socialisations penetrate our culture include identifying a crying male baby as "mad" or married men interpreting their wives as "hostile" when not smiling. This abundance of smiling in women is thought to be because globally and historically women have had less power than men and low social power is associated with smiling as a submissive sign[factual?]. For men displays of anger are theorised to be goal-associated and that by appearing competent and assertive this behaviour can overcome obstacles (Hess, Adams & Kleck, 2004).

Modern Western beliefs about the emotionality of men and women stems from the 19th century where these ideologies arose from the division of labour in industry[factual?]. Women who needed to be at home to care for the family required emotional sensitivity[factual?]. Men on the other hand were sent into a workforce in the public sphere which would permit them to be angry or at the least assertive so as to be seen as capable[factual?]. These beliefs still permeate Western culture today and continue to be used to justify the inequalities between men and women (Simon & Nath, 2004).

Women tend to report more internalised experiences of distress, anxiety and depression[factual?]. In a social structure this supports the theory that this is due to women being lower status or class than men, and lower class people experience more negative emotions than the higher classes. However both genders experience different types of emotional distress[factual?]. Men are more likely to externalise their problems such as through substance abuse[factual?]. So it is not to say that either gender feels more or less than the other but that they both experience negative emotions but differ in the expression (Simon & Nath, 2004).

Male stereotypes[edit | edit source]

Men use aggression to reassert manhood from threats to their masculinity[factual?]. A situational cue that prompts this usually leads to an increase in anxiety where a man will then use aggressive behaviour to take control of the situation (Berke, Reidy, Miller & Zeichner, 2017). Men are encouraged to be aggressive and internalise submissive emotions which can lead to a higher risk of antisocial behaviours and substance abuse (Chaplin, 2015). Internalising emotions or emotion suppression occurs after an emotion is triggered in the person who then makes a conscious effort to inhibit and reduce the expression of that emotion. This is generally done to avoid negative evaluation from peers and generally is a dysfunctional mechanism[factual?]. Emotional suppression has been found to have a negative effect on mood, well-being, biological functioning, memory and affects social relationships by impairing communication (Kalokerinos, Greenaway, Pedder & Margetts, 2014).

Because these rules about gender are imposed in people for much of their childhood it is consequently built into their identity and creates a discrepancy between people's actual selves and ought selves. Therefore there is a belief that violating the masculine self-image means subjecting oneself to negative social consequences or condemnation. In a study where men's masculine status was threatened regarding interpersonal situations with vulnerability it was found that this reassertion of masculine status lead to negative affect and bad coping strategies. This was tied into how PTSD, depression and substance abuse are linked to negative affect which further demonstrates that this is an unhealthy pattern in male socialisation (Berke, Reidy, Miller & Zeichner, 2017).  

Female stereotypes[edit | edit source]

The general consensus is that women are more emotional and are better at expressing emotion (Chaplin, 2015). While emotional expression has been linked to better psychological well-being (Chaplin & Aldao, 2013), does this mean that women are necessarily better off than men? The answer is a resounding no as can be seen in the statistics for psychological disorders, in particular for the prevalence of depression which is twice as high for women than as for men (Salk, Hyde & Abramson, 2017). So why does this not add up?

It ties back into how women do not have the same social standing as men. Women show greater emotional expression but often internalise negative emotions which can lead to depression, anxiety and self-harm (Thomassin, Marion, Venasse, Shaffer, 2017). Boys conceal their emotions but girls are encouraged to be emotionally expressive but restrain expressive behaviour (Kring & Gordon, 1998), which is probably how people come to assume that women are better at talking about their feelings but why men find women "so hard to read". Women are also more likely to smile in uncomfortable social situations to appease others or attempt to reduce their own anxiety which is problematic because it reinforces a submissive disposition that keeps women in that lower social standing (Panjwani, Chaplin, Sinha & Mayes, 2016).

Androgyny: There are two polars[say what?] to gender roles, male and female or masculine and feminine. In between those is androgyny. Androgyny assumes a flexibility of behaviour by not prescribing to societal notions about what sex-appropriate behaviour an individual should reflect. Androgyny has been found to be related to psychological health and well-being and is an attractive characteristic in a romantic partner[factual?]. Androgynous individuals are also less neurotic and more extroverted (which also relates to being more expressive) (Kring & Gordon, 1998).

LGBTQ+ Population: The [what?] literature for this community regarding emotional expression falls woefully short. Because of the stresses the individuals of this community face make them vulnerable to developing a mental disorder[factual?]. Constant discrimination and devaluing of emotional health can lead members of minorities to develop poor coping skills[factual?]. Despite this a large majority of this population do not develop significant psychological disorders which have interesting implications for the resilience of a disadvantaged population in modern times (Hill & Gunderson, 2015). Future research should look at how initial assumptions based on male and female gender stereotypes applied to emotional expression can differ in transgender people or LGB people who do not conform to typical patterns.

Social norms and reinforcement[edit | edit source]

Gender stereotypes are pervasive: women suppress and internalise anger displays and men internalise sadness and anxiety displays (Chaplin, 2015). So why do we still adhere to these outdated stereotypes for emotion expression when they contribute to poor mental health?

People conform to these stereotypes to avoid social backlash. The fear of being ostracised for exhibiting behaviour that is not consistent with what people expect can lead to social punishment and negative evaluations. This is a powerful motivator to the point where the effort to confirm these stereotypes can take a cognitive toll on the individual (McCarty, Kelly & Williams, 2014).

This social pressure perpetuates a vicious cycle in what we perceive as gender-appropriate behaviours. The only emotions men exhibit more freely than women are pride and anger which are also traits that leaders or people in positions of power should exhibit. When a man gets angry it is assumed to be caused externally and a response to a provoking circumstance. Unfortunately for women expressing anger is internally attributed such as being a personality flaw or an irrational reaction because it is inconsistent with the stereotype that women should internalise this emotion (Brescoll & Uhlmann, 2008). Sometimes by simply not challenging a stereotype we inadvertently confirm its power. People may avoid careers that are not consistent with their genders not because they are incompetent but because it has been reinforced that it is not appropriate for their gender (McCarty, Kelly & Williams, 2014). This explains why leadership qualities are associated with being assertive and why these types of jobs are more male-dominated. The same can be said for jobs that require interpersonal contact like nursing which is female-dominated.

Emotional displays will vary depending on the stressors in a persons life. People from ethnic or social minorities or who come from low-income families will have different approaches on how to express emotions due to chronic stress (Panjwani, Chaplin, Sinha & Mayes, 2016). An example of this may be in people who come from poverty who may act angry as a defence mechanism to disguise feelings of shame. Cross-culturally there are differences in emotional expression. African Americans have been found to display anger more and smile more than European Americans. Each ethnicity has different beliefs regarding which genders express which emotions, for example European Americans believed that men expressed more pride than women. Other ethnicities also bring a unique perspective such as Japanese people who culturally do not express much emotion in public compared to Westerners (Panjwani, Chaplin, Sinha & Mayes, 2016).  

Reinforcement in children[edit | edit source]

By 2 years of age children are able to identify basic emotions like happiness and sadness from facial expressions[factual?]. By age 5 most children can identify more complex emotions like anger and fear[factual?]. Parents reinforce cultural gender stereotypes in using gender labels with ambiguous characters[factual?]. An example of this may be an angry tiger in a children's book that the parent may point to and describe as "he", attributing the angry characteristic to a male figure. This sends the message that certain emotions are more common in certain genders despite how ambiguous a character may be (van der Pol et al., 2015). Another example for how these messages continue into adulthood may be labelling an aggressive driver as male, or a driver who is bad at parking as female despite not knowing the actual gender of the driver.  

Gender stereotypes are reinforced through the displays that children are rewarded or punished for. During early childhood children are socialised depending on which emotions they display, which emotions attract their parents attention and even which activities or toys they may choose to play with. Children believe very strongly in these stereotypes around ages 4-5 and decrease by age 7 (Chaplin, Cole & Zahn-Waxler, 2005).

Social learning theory proposes that children will model their behaviour from their parents (Goldberg & Garcia, 2016) which means that children will incorporate the values their parents uphold on which genders should exhibit which emotions. So children who are praised for a gender-stereotype consistent behaviour will probably be more likely to repeat it in the future. Fathers in particular pay more attention to gender-consistent emotion displays (Chaplin, Cole & Zahn-Waxler, 2005). 

This literature obviously reflects a very heterosexual household children are supposedly raised in. Interestingly lesbian or gay parents are less likely to buy toys or clothing for their children based on gender and generally steer them away from gendered behaviour norms like sports for boys and dance for girls (Goldberg & Garcia, 2016).

Media reinforcement[edit | edit source]

Icons-mini-icon package.gif GIF - Typical example of a male character

One major avenue for gender stereotype reinforcement is through the media and specifically through characters in film and television. To appeal to wide audiences film requires certain formulas and categorises characters by what is supposedly relatable and reflective of modern culture. Characters are often separated into a communal category where they are relatable, selfless and involved with others - which by no surprise usually encompasses female characters. This is reflective of women being more emotionally expressive because of their gender role as the caregiver. Male characters on the other hand are seen as agentic or individual and capable (Krahn, 2015) and again reflects their position in society. Seeing these portrayals over and over again in media further reinforces these ideals as normal and even admirable.

The film industry is overwhelmingly male-dominated both in the creators and the characters (Smith, 2013). There has been increasingly feminist backlash for films which portray female characters as "strong" by simply being a female version of a typical male hero. This is seen by the female characters being unemotional and exhibiting typically masculine behaviour (Valibeigi, 2015). There is an overwhelming ratio of films which portray men in a negative but stereotypical light which further reinforces the idea that men need to live up to these ideals which include not displaying emotions[factual?]. Despite this some films do break the mold and experiment with male characters who are allowed to feel or female characters who are allowed to be strong, independent and emotional (Smith, 2013).

Emotional expressiveness and well-being[edit | edit source]

The interaction between emotion expression and well-being involves how men and women develop coping strategies and what traits will contribute to healthy relationships.

Women self-report as feeling anger more frequently than men but express it verbally rather than behaviourally. Women do report feelings of anxiety and sadness more than men which is consistent with the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders in women[factual?]. Interestingly men report more feelings of calm and excitement and both genders experience the same frequency of feelings of shame[factual?]. So why does the stereotype of men being so angry uphold? Because of the coping strategies each gender employs. Women have been found to be more likely to talk about their angry feelings or using spiritual coping strategies. Men on the other hand are more likely to use a substance to cope.  (Simon & Nath, 2004)

Emotion expression is required for healthy development. Restricting emotion expression or emotion suppression can lead to decreased well-being and psychological disorders later in life (Chaplin & Aldao, 2013). Emotion suppression is also linked to poor task performance and poor memory. Self-control can contribute to becoming accustomed to emotion suppression but still does little to improve psychological well-being in the long term (McCarty, Kelly & Williams, 2014).

Expressions of emotions in relationships are linked to intimacy and trust between partners. Vulnerable emotions of sadness, fear and anxiety are expressions of need and require a supportive response. Anger can be a good communication medium to convey a conflict if not interpreted as a deliberate attack and can lead to less stress and less insensitive support[factual?]. Communication of positive emotions has numerous benefits like increasing happiness and strengthening the relationship[factual?]. Most importantly a willingness to express emotions fosters intimacy and closeness and women are more concerned than men with open communication meaning[factual?]. This means that women are more likely to benefit from a partner who willingly expresses emotions (Monin, Martire, Schulz & Clark, 2009).

Because therapy is related to seeking help and may tie into the discrepancy of men being capable and tough one of the best interventions for men is to challenge these norms[factual?]. By educating people on how these issues affect them it can then pave the way to better coping skills and managing stressors (Berke, Reidy, Miller & Zeichner, 2017).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Emotional expression in gender is reinforced because of the social pressures people face to assume the norm or face ridicule or being ostracised[factual?]. We have to fit into society to survive and to do that sometimes the path of least resistance is the best option[factual?]. Stereotypes are good in the sense that they allow people to make cognitive shortcuts. When men and women fit neatly into the categories we assign them their behaviour aligns with our schemas and scripts.

Perhaps the best thing you can do in improving your well-being is understanding your own gender stereotypes in relation to which emotions are acceptable to express in society and by your own rules[factual?]. Being able to recognise where gender restricts your expressions may lead to better coping skills and interpersonal relationships[factual?]. Educating others on how social structures and reinforcement like in popular films may limit their emotion expression can strengthen interpersonal relationships[factual?].

The limitations in this area of research include the reliance on self-reporting to describe emotions in people. There is also a focus on basic emotions rather than cognitively complex emotions. Further research should look further into the differences in emotional expression with our modern evolving definitions of gender. Transgender and non-binary gender people would open up another avenue in this research to look at how breaking free of rigid social stereotypes imposed from birth can affect emotional expression in adulthood (e.g., a male-to-female transgender person may have a different perspective on being female than a cisgender woman would and could possibly struggle with adapting new ways of expressing emotion).

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Berke, D., Reidy, D., Miller, J., & Zeichner, A. (2017). Take it like a man: Gender-threatened men’s experience of gender role discrepancy, emotion activation, and pain tolerance. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18, 62-69. doi:10.1037/men0000036

Brescoll, V., & Uhlmann, E. (2008). Can an angry woman get ahead? status conferral, gender, and expression of emotion in the workplace . Psychological Science, 19, 268-275.

Chaplin, T. (2015). Gender and emotion expression: A developmental contextual perspective. Emotion Review, 7, 21. doi:10.1177/1754073914544408

Chaplin, T., & Aldao, A. (2013). Gender differences in emotion expression in children: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 735-765.

Chaplin, T., Cole, P., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2005). Parental socialization of emotion expression: Gender differences and relations to child adjustment. Emotion, 5, 80-88.

Fischbach, A., Lichtenthaler, P., & Horstmann, N. (2015). Leadership and gender stereotyping of emotions: Think manager – think male? Journal of Personnel Psychology, 14, 153-162.

Fischer, A. (2000). Gender and emotion: Social psychological perspectives. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fischer, A., Rodriguez Mosquera, P., via Vianen, A., & Manstead, A. (2004). Gender and culture differences in emotion. Emotion, 4, 87-94. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.4.1.87

Goldberg, A., & Garcia, R. (2016). Gender-typed behavior over time in children with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 30, 854-865. doi:10.1037/fam0000226

Hess, U., Adams, R., & Kleck, R. (2004). Facial appearance, gender, and emotion expression. Emotion, 4, 378-388.

Hess, U., & Thibault, P. (2009). Darwin and emotion expression. American Psychologist, 64, 120-128.

Hill, C., & Gunderson, C. (2015). Resilience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals in relation to social environment, personal characteristics, and emotion regulation strategies. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2, 232-252. doi:10.1037/sgd0000129

Johnson, G. (2009). Theories of emotion. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource,

Kalokerinos, E., Greenaway, L., Pedder, D., & Margetts, E. (2014). Don’t grin when you win: The social costs of positive emotion expression in performance situations. Emotion, 14, 180-186.

Krahn, K. (2015). Reel women: Gender stereotypes in film. Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations,

Kring, A., & Gordon, A. (1998). Sex differences in emotion: Expression, experience, and physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 686-703.

McCarty, M., Kelly, J., & Williams, K. (2014). The cognitive costs of the counter-stereotypic: Gender, emotion, and social presence. The Journal of Social Psychology, 154, 447-462. doi:10.1080/00224545.2014.933160

Monin, J., Martire, L., Schulz, R., & Clark, M. (2009). Willingness to express emotions to caregiving spouses. Emotion, 9, 101-106.

Panjwani, N., Chaplin, T., Sinha, R., & Mayes, L. (2016). Gender differences in emotion expression in low-income adolescents under stress. Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, 40, 117-132. doi:10.1007/s10919-015-0224-6

Salk, R., Hyde, J., & Abramson, L. (2017). Gender differences in depression in representative national samples: Meta-analyses of diagnoses and symptoms. Psychological Bulletin, 143, 783-822. doi:10.1037/bul0000102

Simon, R., & Nath, L. (2004). Gender and emotion in the united states: Do men and women differ in Self‐Reports of feelings and expressive behavior? American Journal of Sociology, 109, 1137-1176. doi:10.1086/382111

Smith, J. (2013). Normalizing male dominance: Gender representation in 2012 Films. Retrieved from

Thomassin, K., Marion, C., Venasse, M., & Shaffer, A. (2017). Specific coping strategies moderate the link between emotion expression deficits and nonsuicidal self-injury in an inpatient sample of adolescents. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 11

Valibeigi, B. (2015). Strong female characters are rarely strong and barely characters. Retrieved from

van der Pol, L., Groeneveld, M., van Berkel, S., Endendijk, J., Hallers-Haalbloom, E., Bakermans-Kranenberg, M., & Mesman, J. (2015). Fathers’ and mothers’ emotion talk with their girls and boys from toddlerhood to preschool age. Emotion, 15, 854-864.

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Pixar's Inside Out clip - demonstrating emotions in men and women (sadness is in charge in the mother, anger is in charge in the father)
  • The Mask You Live In trailer - documentary about toxic masculinity and how men struggle with expressing emotions
  • Why Don't Boys Cry? - Buzzfeed video interviewing men about why men feel they aren't allowed to cry
  • GIF - Great example of a male character exhibiting emotions, aka my actual words when I finished this assignment.