Emotionally, Men Are Far, Women Near

Me theorizing two weeks ago:

We should expect men to be more self-aware, transparent, and simple regarding their feelings about short-term sexual attractions, while women have more complex, layered, and opaque feelings on this subject. In contrast, women should be more more self-aware, transparent, and simple regarding their feelings about long-term pair-bonding, while men have more complex, layered, and opaque feelings on this subject. By being more opaque on sensitive subjects, we can keep ourselves from giving off clear signals of an inclination to betray. (more)

Now add two more assumptions:

  1. Each gender is more emotional about the topic area (short vs. long term mating) where its feelings are more complex, layered, and opaque.
  2. Long term mating thoughts tend to be in far mode, while short term mating thoughts tend to be in near mode. (Love is far, sex is near.)

Given these assumptions we should expect emotional men to be more in far mode, and emotional women to be more in near mode. (At least if mating-related emotions are a big part of emotions overall.) And since far modes tend to have a more positive mood, we should expect men to have more positive emotions, and women more negative.

In fact, even though overall men and women are just as emotional, men report more positive and less negative emotions than women. Also, after listening to an emotional story, male hormones help one remember its far-mode-abstract gist, while female hormones help one remembrer its near-mode-concrete details. (Supporting study quotes below.)

I’ve been wondering for a while why we don’t see a general correlation between near vs. far and emotionality, and I guess this explains it – the correlation is there but it flips between genders. This also helps explain common patterns in when the genders see each other as overly or underly emotional. Women are more emotional about details (e.g., his smell, that song), while men are more emotional about generalities (e.g., patriotism, fairness). Now for those study quotes:

Extensive research demonstrates that the valence of mood triggers the level of processing styles: Positive mood triggers global and abstract processing, whereas negative mood triggers local and concrete processing. These different processing styles influence task performance, such that positive mood improves performance on tasks that require abstract thinking, whereas negative mood improves performance of tasks that require concrete thinking. (more)

Women do not report emotions more frequently than men. … This finding holds after controlling for …. sociodemographic characteristics … and social statuses …. Younger persons and those with lower levels of household income report more frequent feelings. … Men report positive feelings more often than women. … [This] remains significant after sociodemographic and status characteristics are included. … Women report negative feelings significantly more often than men. … Men report feeling calm and excited more often than women, whereas women report feeling anxious and sad more often than men. (more)

We predicted that, relative to placebo, [memory inhibitor] propranolol would impair memory for information central to the story line, but not memory for peripheral story details in men. Conversely, propranolol would impair memory for peripheral details, but not for central information in women. Here we confirm this prediction. … These findings … provide support for the hypothesis that … emotional arousal enhances long-term memory for central information in men, … and enhances long-term memory for peripheral details in women. (more)

The BEM Sex-Role Inventory [is] an assessment of sex-related masculine and feminine traits. The results reveal no differences in recall of either central or peripheral story information when considering the performance of actual men and women, but a significant difference when considering male and females as determined by their BEM test scores. “BEM” males (subjects with net male BEM scores) showed significantly enhanced recall of central emotional information. “BEM” females did not. Both groups showed significantly enhanced recall of peripheral emotional information, although this effect appeared larger in BEM females than in BEM males. (more)

Robust sex influences exist … on the amygdala’s role in emotional memory formation, as well as on retention of central information (gist) and detail for an emotional event. Evidence also suggests that the well-documented effects of stress hormones on memory depend upon sex hormone levels. … Naturally [hormonally] cycling women exhibited enhanced memory of story details, but not of central information (gist), in the emotional compared with neutral story conditions. In contrast, women using hormonal contraception exhibited enhanced memory of gist, but not story details, in the emotional compared with neutral story conditions. (more)

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  • http://www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~criedel/ Jess Riedel

    Given these assumptions we should expect emotional men to be more in far mode, and emotional women to be more in near mode. (At least if mating-related emotions are a big part of emotions overall.) And since far modes tend to have a more positive mood, we should expect men to have more positive emotions, and women more negative.

    In fact, even thought overall men and women are just as emotional, men report more positive and less negative emotions than women.

    I count one bit of prediction, and one bit of retrodiction. That doesn’t seem nearly sufficient to support this story, yet. I guess that’s what blog posts are for.

  • Dave

    I agree with Jess. But this post fits a pattern.The propositions rest on a houses of cards. What theories would logic dictate if any of the supporting studies were falsified?

  • Dave

    I was not on beta blockers during the Challenger crash,but was taking them on 9/11 when the Empire State building was knocked down.
    “We predicted that, relative to placebo, [memory inhibitor] propranolol would impair memory for information central to the story line, but not memory for peripheral story details in men. Conversely, propranolol would impair memory for peripheral details, but not for central information in women. Here we confirm this prediction.”

  • http://www.gwern.net/hafu gwern