Friendship influenced by biology
Women, men differ, believe it or not
Stress for Success
April 13, 2010
Is it natural that women are likelier than men to have more close friends? Since this behavioral pattern is found in animals it does suggest that turning to others probably has biological origins.
According to UCLA psychologist Shelly Taylor, “females enjoy the comfort of one another’s company,” like prairie vole males who react to stressful conditions by seeking out their female mates, while females turn to other females. And female bonobo monkeys form intense, long-lasting bonds with other females, much more so than males.
And in both humans and animals the pattern of nurturing well -- or not -- is passed on. Vervet monkeys, for example, who were mistreated or deprived in infancy don’t mother their own offspring as well as nurtured monkeys do. Humans who were abused as children are more likely to become abusive parents, too, according to Taylor and many researchers. Additionally, children who don’t receive much physical attention or warmth are at risk for a wide range of serious physical and mental health problems.
Across cultures females are taught to care for others from an early age. Playing with dolls, caring for younger siblings, baby-sitting others’ children and eventually caring for their own kids, parents and even in-laws, are typical for most females.
Taylor goes on to say that relationships are vital and that “social ties are the cheapest medicine we have.” What great health care is that?
I’ve written before about women’s possible built-in advantage in coping with chronic stress due to the hormone oxytocin , which facilitates child birth and nursing and is experienced by both genders during orgasm and bonding. Some researchers believe this bonding hormone protects women against the ravages of too much exposure to the fight/flight hormones. (Oxytocin doesn’t seem to protect stressed men since their testosterone interferes with it.) This suggests that attachment behavior, more associated with females, is a natural stress inoculant giving females a distinct survival advantage. This is a wonderful antidote for stress that women should continue to rely upon. Men could also put more energy into their relationships and reap similar benefits.
But is this hormonal difference a blessing and a curse to women?
Psychologist Alice Domar at the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston says data clearly show that women are more stressed on a daily basis than are men and not because they ruminate more as once thought.
“Men worry about three things: their immediate family, job and money,” she says. “Women worry on a daily basis about up to 12 things: their immediate family, job, money, extended family, friends, their kids’ friends, the way the house looks, their weight, the dog, etc.”
So women may have a built-in resiliency to stress with additional oxytocin releases but also have more stress, much of it over the very relationships that protect women from stress. The trick to this is to stop stewing about anything and anyone beyond your control and when you feel stressed call a friend, or make a friend if you don’t have one.
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.