Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Gender and emotion

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Gender and emotion:
What are the differences in the way each gender experiences emotion?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Everyone experiences emotions differently, no matter what gender they define themselves as. Links between emotion and gender have been found through how the genders are perceived, their varying traits/characteristics, and past events that have caused the same "emotions". For example, those who are the autism spectrum may not experience emotions the same way that everybody else does. This chapter looks at the theories of emotion that have allowed theorists (psychologists, physiologists, etc.) to determine what causes an emotional/physiological response and how these are viewed from a researcher's perspective. This chapter also explores the differences between emotion and gender as two separate entities.

Theories of emotion[edit | edit source]

The theories in this section explain the link between emotion and physiological responses. All of the theories spark ideas regarding the event which has occurred before the physiological and emotional responses. They discuss not only how far the human species has come in knowing what causes an emotional reaction, but also what causes physiological responses to go along with these emotions. Theories used include the James-Lange Theory of Emotion, the Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion and Schacter-Singer Theory of Emotion.

Figure 1. This figure interprets the James-Lange Theory of Emotion by showing an event happening, followed by a person's physiological response, and then an emotion being felt.

James-Lange theory of emotion[edit | edit source]

Psychologist William James and Physiologist Carl Lange were among the first to suggest that when we experience emotion during an event, a physiological arousal occurs first and the emotion is our interpretation of that arousal (see Figure 1) (Cherry, 2017). For example, if you see a bear in the woods you would run, therefore you are afraid (James, 1894). This theory has been thoroughly criticised by professionals both past and present. Criticisms include Fehr and Stern's (1970) revisit of the theory in which they state how problematic evaluating the theory is in an experimental condition. In saying this Fehr and Stern (1970) agreed with James (1894) when he stated "the symptoms (behavioural and physiological) of the same emotion may vary from one man to another, and yet the emotion has them (the symptoms) for its cause)". Another criticism of the James-Lange Theory is that it doesn't take into account the similarities between emotional and non-emotional (purely psychological) states; for example a rise in heart rate can not only indicate fear, but it is also an indicator of a high fever (Sincero, 2017). The rise in heart rate happens due to the Autonomous Nervous System (ANS) (see also: Autonomous Nervous System).

Case Study
Ethan sits down to watch a scary movie. The scene with the killer jumping out at the victim causes Ethan to jump and his heart rate to rise. Because of this unexplained experience Ethan is scared.
  • Event - Ethan watching a scary movie.
  • Physiological response - Ethan jumping and his heart rate rising.
  • Emotion due to unexplained experience - Ethan is scared.
Figure 2. This figure interprets the Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion by showing an even happening and then the physiological response happening at the same time as the emotional response.

Cannon-Bard theory of emotion[edit | edit source]

To refute the James-Lange Theory of Emotion, Walter Cannon and Philip Bard proposed their own theory suggesting that a stimulating event causes a simultaneous reaction between emotion and arousal. In saying this, a person's emotion can be observed based on their physiological responses and body language (see Figure 2) (Sincero, 2017; Cherry, 2017). For example, when you are watching a scary movie you'll cover your face as your heart rate begins to rise, therefore causing an arousal of emotion through an external stimuli. This theory originally predicted that an animal's thalamus can be removed (decortication) and it would reduce the animals emotional hyperactivity (Roeckelein, 1998). Results of this study proved that even though the viscera (thalamus) of the cat was removed they were still alive (Bard, 1934). This was important historically because it put attention on the structures of the CNS that handle emotions. One criticism of the Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion is that it focuses too much on the thalamus instead of looking at the hypothalamus as the dominant viscera for emotional behaviour (Levinthal, 1990; Roeckelein, 1998).

Case Study
Ethan goes for a walk down the main street one day and sees his best friend. Ethan gives his friend a hug and feels happy at the same time that he is putting his feelings into action.
  • Event - Seeing best friend.
  • Physiological and emotional response (at the same time) - hugging his friend and feeling happy.

Schachter-Singer theory of emotion[edit | edit source]

Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer are two American Psychologists who challenged the James-Lange theory of Emotion. According to the Schachter-Singer Theory of Emotion an event causes a physiological arousal first and once you've experienced it you give it a cognitive label. The theorists argued that if you are in a physiological state of arousal that there is no explanation for, it will be labelled as an emotion (Roeckelein, 2006). An example of this is walking down a dark alley alone at night and you hear footsteps. Your heart begins to race, however once you have noticed this arousal you realize that this is a dangerous behaviour and that the emotion you are feeling is fear. This is different from Figure 1 and Figure 2 because there is a third process involved before the end called reasoning. By thinking it out a person has given a reason to what they are feeling.

Case Study
Ethan decides to go to the local watering hole on his own one day. On his way he hears a footstep crunch in the bush. His heart immediately begins to race, as his palms get sweaty. He realizes that it is dangerous and thinks how silly he is because he went on his own. The emotion he is feeling is fear.
  • Event - walking on his own.
  • Physiological response - heart racing and sweaty palms.
  • Cognitive label - dangerous behaviour
  • Emotion - Fear
Figure 3. This figure interprets Lazarus' Theory of Emotion as needing two thoughts before an emotional and physiological response.
Figure 4. This figure gives an example for Lazarus' Theory of Emotion.

Lazarus theory (stress and cognitive appraisal)[edit | edit source]

Richard Lazarus' Theory of Emotion challenged the Schachter-Singer Theory of Emotion as it argued that appraisal precedes cognitive labelling and simultaneously stimulates both the emotional experience and physiological arousal (Garland et al., 2015). In saying this, the thought comes before the emotion and physiological response. As can be seen in Figure 3 there are two sets of thoughts that happen before the emotional and physiological responses. The primary thoughts interpret how dangerous, positive or relevant the situation is to the person. The information in the secondary thoughts allow a person to determine whether they have the internal and external resources to overcome the situation; if they don't they will experience stress. Stress can be overcome by problem-focused coping or emotion-focused coping. Once stress has been overcome a person will be able to appraise themselves cognitively as they continue to learn and pace themselves (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

Case Study
Ethan is a singer. One time while he is singing his voice breaks and he immediately stops. He begins to think of the worst scenarios, such as having nodes (little cysts on his vocal cords). Ethan than begins to think if he can handle not being able to sing for a while. After coming to the worst conclusion [what?] he begins to experience stress. Once he sees a doctor and the doctor tells him that he will be OK, Ethan begins to rest his voice so that he will soon be able to sing again.
  • Event - Voice breaking
  • Primary Appraisal - Worst case scenarios such as nodes.
  • Secondary Appraisal - Thoughts of not being able to sing again.
  • Stress - Not handling the news well.
  • Coping - Seeing the doctor and resting his voice.
  • Reappraisal - Being able to sing again.

Facial-Feedback hypothesis[edit | edit source]

The Facial-Feedback Hypothesis suggests that facial movement has an influence on a persons[grammar?] emotional experience. According to this hypothesis, when an event happens and a persons[grammar?] facial muscles change an emotion is felt. Therefore, the main idea of this theory is that emotional experience is affected by facial expressions. According to Buck (1980), skeletal muscle feedback from facial expressions plays a role in regulating emotional experience and behaviour; this then implies that there is a positive relationship between facial expression and emotion. Modern theorists have said that the influence of someone else's facial expression can take place even if they aren't aware of it, and that smiling or frowning in everyday situations can have an effect on other people (Kaiser & Davey, 2017).

Case Study
Ethan watches his mother's face turn from happy (laughing) to sad. His own emotions and facial expression react to the way she feels.
  • Event - Watching his mother.
  • Reaction - his own emotions and facial features being influenced by her expression.

More of an explanation
Want to know a little bit more about Theories of Emotion? Watch this YouTube video to gain more of an insight into the theories of emotion (Khan Academy, 2013) (YouTube video 8:13 minutes).

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Test your knowledge!

1 In what order does Lazarus' Theory of Emotion take place?

Event, Stress, Primary Appraisal, Coping, Secondary Appraisal
Event, Primary Appraisal, Secondary Appraisal, Stress, Coping
Primary Appraisal, Event, Secondary Appraisal, Coping

2 The Facial-Feedback Hypothesis suggests...

There is a negative relationship between facial recognition and emotion
No emotion is felt by another person after viewing a facial change 
In viewing someone else's facial expression your own emotions with change
There is no physiological reaction when viewing someone's facial expression

3 Which two theories refuted the James-Lange Theory of Emotion?

Facial-Feedback Hypothesis and Lazarus' Theory of Emotion
Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion and Schachter-Singer Theory of Emotion
Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion and Facial-Feedback Hypothesis
Lazarus' Theory of Emotion and Schachter-Singer Theory of Emotion

Gender[edit | edit source]

There are many theories surrounding gender and how it empowers people. Feminism is especially exciting to women as it allows for them to feel dominant in a society that for so many years has solely been focused on what men want. Gender is a binary system as it refers to two categories (male and female), for each word that there is for a man there is an opposite for a woman (for example - buddy is derived from brother and sissy is derived from sister (Beasley, 2008). One theory in particular that stands out of the crowd is Hegemonic Masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is the influence on gender studies that has stated that men are more dominant then[spelling?] women. In one study, researchers suggest that the concept of hegemonic masculinity does not equate to the a model of social reproduction, therefore showing the idea of multiple masculinities (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005).

This theory embodies the context of privilege and power when it comes to empowering women, this is because women are as seen as the weaker species in the human race as they have not been able to provide as well for their family as males. However, this is not the case in all species as women are seen as the more dominant counterparts in several different species such as tigers. The main gender theory that is focused on by many theorists is feminism and the need to empower women to be dominant in society. Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights as well as to promote equality between both genders. There have been many criticism of feminism as it has lead to debates between the genders as to who had more rights, rather than that both genders are equal (McRobbie, 2009).

Gender differences in emotional regulation[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. Young girls are more likely to care for one another, whereas boys will continue to run around and play as the pain does not effect[grammar?] their emotions[factual?].

There are several differences in the way each gender is perceived emotionally[Rewrite to improve clarity]; boys are told to man up and not show emotion, whereas women are told that showing emotion is perfectly acceptable[factual?]. Women are told that if they are too muscly[spelling?] that they are no longer feminine, whereas men are told that they need to be muscular in order to be accepted by society[factual?]. These are seen as gender norms which divide the men and women, and have been doing so for years[factual?]. Caplan, Crawford, Hyde & Richardson (1997) suggest that there are gender differences in cognitive thinking between the two sexes; differences include mathematical, spatial and verbal abilities (all domains of cognitive functioning). Anthropological studies have shown that at the age of 3-6 boys are more likely to play rough whereas girls are more likely to want to touch objects and learn what they are (cognitive differences) (Notman & Nadelson, 1991; Thayer, Rossy, Ruiz-Padial & Johnsen, 2003). These are also seen a behavioural differences between males and females, as females are more likely to grow up faster than males[factual?]. In saying this, these differences leave both males and females vulnerable to not only physical bullying, but also emotional bullying.

In several different socio-economic backgrounds, emotion regulation strategies are not being put in place to protect young children becoming mentally ill at a young age; even if a child is exposed to mental illness[factual?]. For example, children with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who are being over-exposed to abuse from a young age that they are more likely to reenact what they have seen if they did not receive help at the age that they were beginning to learn; this can be shown in the differences in actions when emotions are running high after a PTSD episode (Trahan & Cheung, 2008)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. In saying this, some children who do suffer from PTSD and receive help still succumb to the episode as the emotion regulation strategies may not work every time.

What is Rumination?
Rumination or rather Ruminating is the repetitively going over a specific thought or problem without doing anything about it. Rumination is more common in depression (Wehrenberg, 2016).

Men are more likely to become addicted to a substance than women due to cognitive differences in the brain[factual?]. Men use addiction to cope with any strong emotion they feel, as from a young age they are told to hide their feelings rather than let them show[factual?]. According to researchers, men are more likely to misuse alcohol to help regulate their emotions, whereas women are more likely to express these emotions based on the experiences at hand (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2012). In saying this, self-regulation of emotions is important as "bottling up" your emotions leads to outbursts, rather than keeping these reactions socially tolerable (see also: Emotional self-regulation)[factual?].

Research shows that there are six emotion regulation strategies that can be used in accordance with the symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance-related disorders, these are: acceptance, avoidance, problem-solving, rumination, reappraisal and suppression (Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema & Schweizer, 2010; Compas et al., 2017). Researchers found that rumination was a largely used regulation strategy in this study as participants were more likely to think about a problem repetitively (due to anxiety and depression), then they were to want to solve the problem or accept it.

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Test your knowledge!

1 At what age do boys want to play rough, whereas girls are more likely to touch?


2 What substance are men more likely to become addicted to if they are depressed?


3 What is rumination?

Accepting that this is the way things were meant to be.
Thinking about a problem repetitively.
Finding a solution to a problem.
Avoiding a problem completely.
Suppressing a problem until you've forgotten about it.

Stability of emotions[edit | edit source]

The Mask You Live In Trailer
Watch this YouTube video] that follows young boys and men on their journey in what is known as a narrow definition of masculinity in America (The Representation Project, 2014) (YouTube video 3:09 minutes).

There are several links between emotion and gender, whether it be a female who is going through pre-menstrual syndrome, or a man who feels that his "manhood" has been tainted. As children, people are put into boxes and stereotyped regardless of where they are from[factual?]. Women are told that it is okay to show emotion and to feel these emotions, however men are told the opposite; they are told that crying is "for girls"[factual?]. Males tend to say they have been emasculated if they are not in control of a situation, this then causes them to react with the emotion we know as anger; this is because men play a specific role in society and are seen as the dominant gender (Berke, Reidy, Miller & Zeichner, 2017). In one study, researchers found that, when there was a perceived gender threat, most males elicited aggression rather than symptoms of anxiety. Those males who felt gender threatened also indicated that they had a higher pain tolerance than males who did not feel threatened (Berke, Reidy, Miller & Zeichner, 2017). In saying this men feel emasculated if their is a threat to their dominance due to socially constructed stereotypes and a persons need to stay up to date. Due to this need for dominance men are more likely to be emotionally stable when compared to women.

Some studies have also shown that men are less likely to react to emotional recognition due to not looking at another person's mouth or eyes to view their 'emotion face' (Sullivan, Campbell, Hutton & Ruffman, 2015). In not looking at another person's 'emotion face' people are less likely to recognize what is going on in another person's mind. In using the facial-feedback hypothesis to explain this, researchers found that having their participants watch another person's facial expressions change they were able to view the change in the participants body language (Sullivan, Campbell, Hutton & Ruffman, 2015; Kaiser & Davey, 2017). In saying this, people who are on the autism spectrum don't have the same luxury as it is difficult for them to distinguish facial expressions and body language. That is why it is important to help them with learning how to react to different emotions that come from people they aren't around everyday (Bemporad, Ratey & O'Drsicoll[spelling?], 1987).

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Test your knowledge!

1 Men are less likely to recognize changes in facial expression...


2 Women will show more emotion due to being stereotyped that way....


3 What did Berke & colleagues find in their study?

Males were more aggressive when they weren't gender threatened.
Males who were gender threatened had a higher pain tolerance.
Males who were gender threatened had a low pain tolerance.
Males had more to gain from being gender threatened.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

In conclusion, it can be seen that there are several links between gender and emotion. However, not all of these links are visible. From a young age people are taught how to regulate their emotions whether they be a male being told not to cry, or a female being told to let it all out rather than holding it. Regulation strategies follow a person through their life and influence the way they view the world. Whether they use facial-feedback to determine their own emotion or if their thought process tells them they feel a certain emotion, emotions are linked to both genders. Some human beings are just better at perceiving emotional and physiological changes than others. As shown women are more likely to recognize changes in emotion when compared to males, however males are more likely to have stable emotions[factual?].

See Also[edit | edit source]


Aldao, A., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Schweizer, S. (2010). Emotion-regulation strategies across psychopathology: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(2), 217-237.

Bard, P. (1934). On emotional expression after decortication with some remarks on certain theoretical views: Part 1. Psychological Review, 41(4), 309-329.

Beasley, C. (2008). Gender & sexuality. London: Sage Publications.

Bemporad, J. R., Ratey, J. J., & O'Driscoll, G. (1987). Autism and emotion: An ethological theory. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57(4), 477-484.

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(1), 62-69.

Buck, R. (1980). Nonverbal behavior and the theory of emotion: The facial feedback hypothesis. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 38(5), 811-824.

Caplan, P., Crawford, M., Hyde, J., & Richardson, J. (1997). Gender differences in human cognition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cherry, K. (2017). What Is the James-Lange Theory of Emotion?. Verywell. Retrieved 31 August 2017, from

Compas, B., Jaser, S., Bettis, A., Watson, K., Gruhn, M., & Dunbar, J. et al. (2017). Coping, emotion regulation, and psychopathology in childhood and adolescence: A meta-analysis and narrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 143(9), 939-991.

Connell, R., & Messerschmidt, J. (2005). Hegemonic Masculinity. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829-859.

Fehr, F., & Stern, J. (1970). Peripheral physiological variables and emotion: The James-Lange theory revisited. Psychological Bulletin, 74(6), 411-424.

Garland, E., Farb, N., R. Goldin, P., & Fredrickson, B. (2015). Mindfulness Broadens Awareness and Builds Eudaimonic Meaning: A Process Model of Mindful Positive Emotion Regulation. Psychological Inquiry, 26(4), 293-314.

Kaiser, J., & Davey, G. (2017). The effect of facial feedback on the evaluation of statements describing everyday situations and the role of awareness. Consciousness And Cognition, 53, 23-30.

Lazarus, R., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.

Levinthal, C. (1990). Introduction to physiological psychology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

McRobbie, A. (2009). The aftermath of feminism. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2012). Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology: The Role of Gender. Annual Review Of Clinical Psychology, 8(1), 161-187.

Notman, M., & Nadelson, C. (1991). Women and men. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Roeckelein, J. (1998). Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology (pp. 87-88). Wesport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Roeckelein, J. (2006). Elsevier's dictionary of psychological theories. Amsterdam [Netherlands]: Elsevier.

Sincero, S. (2017). Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion. Retrieved 13 October 2017, from

Sullivan, S., Campbell, A., Hutton, S., & Ruffman, T. (2015). What’s good for the goose is not good for the gander: Age and gender differences in scanning emotion faces. The Journals Of Gerontology: Series B, 72(3), 441-447.

Thayer, J., Rossy, L., Ruiz-Padial, E., & Johnsen, B. (2003). Gender Differences in the Relationship between Emotional Regulation and Depressive Symptoms. Cognitive Therapy Research, 27(3), 349 - 364.

Trahan, M., & Cheung, M. (2008). Fathers and Traumatized Youth: Key Variables of Gender, Emotion, and Recovery Needs. Journal Of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 1(3), 207-223.

Wehrenberg, M. (2016). Rumination: A Problem in Anxiety and Depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved 14 October 2017, from

External links[edit | edit source]