Turn off the nightly news.
The results of a new study suggest that all the negative news in the media stresses women out more than it does men. Even worse, we remember details of unhappy news events better.
Researchers from the University of Montreal recently set out to figure out how negative news affects stress levels. For the study, the researchers divided 60 men and women into four groups to read news stories and then measured their cortisol levels–the higher the level of the hormone, the more likely the participants were stressed.
One group of men and one group of women read neutral news stories (the opening of a new park), while the other set of gender-segregated groups read negative stories (murders and accidents).
Sonia Lupien, Director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at the University of Montreal, describes the method. “When our brain perceives a threatening situation, our bodies begin to produce stress hormones that enter the brain and may modulate memories of stressful or negative events.”
After the first test, the participants completed stress-inducing tasks involving memory and intellect, and were measured again for indications of stress. The next day, the participants discussed the news stories with the researchers, who found that women who read negative news stories were more stressed by the memory and intellect tasks than those women who read neutral stories.
A second pattern was observed among women: Those who read stories about accidents and murders remembered more about them than those who read neutral stories. Interestingly enough, neither the level of stress nor the heightened memory was observed among the male participants.
The researchers trace the observed gender difference back to evolutionary factors. According to that theory, women have an innate interest in the survival of their offspring, making them more sensitive to potentially threatening situations.
And what does this mean for our everyday lives? It’s no news to most of us that reading about a murder–or opening an outstanding bill, or answering a call from a debt collector–is stressful. The key is in how we handle it: Do we give in, or do we take control?