Women have been stereotypically defined as being more emotional than men. In popular culture,
women are depicted as being more emotionally volatile, often erupting into fits of sadness, anger, despair or jealousy much more frequently than their male counterparts. But is this portrayal scientifically accurate? Research has shown that there are differences in how men and women emotionally respond to situations. However, little research has addressed the core self-conscious emotions (SCE) of men and women and how they differ. Nicole M. Else-Quest of the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland in Baltimore sought to debunk the myth that women have less emotional regulation than men. She recently conducted a study that compared male and female levels of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and pride in data gathered from over 300 studies.
Existing research has shown that women and men differ in their risks for some mental health issues such as depression, food and eating issues, anxiety, and self-worth. How men and women experience SCEs has a direct influence on their likelihood of developing these and other psychological problems. Else-Quest analyzed over 200,000 self-reports and found that for the most part, women and men had similar levels of SCEs. The results revealed slightly higher levels of guilt and shame in the women, but minimal differences in pride and embarrassment. Else-Quest also looked at age as a factor because men and women tend to exhibit the first signs of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem at different ages. She found that although there were relatively few differences in SCEs in early childhood, women reported higher levels of SCEs, primarily shame and guilt, during adolescence.
Overall, Else-Quest discovered that women experienced the highest levels of guilt and shame when they were asked about sex, food and eating, body image, or the environment. Although the rates of SCEs in these areas were only slightly higher for women than men, these results support existing research regarding women’s emotional perceptions about sex, body image, and eating problems. Else-Quest concluded by saying that even though women had minimally elevated levels of guilt and shame, the men and women reported levels of pride and embarrassment that were virtually identical. She added, “These findings contribute to the literature demonstrating that blanket stereotypes about women’s greater emotionality are inaccurate.”
Else-Quest, N. M., Higgins, A., Allison, C., Morton, L. C. (2012). Gender differences in self-conscious emotional experience: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027930