Thursday, July 31, 2008

Are women "naturally" more negative?

I read an article in O Magazine this morning called "Women and the Negativity Receptor." It brought up some interesting information, such as:

"Why is it that some people, the Donald Trumps of the world, seem to believe only the best about themselves, while others--perhaps especially women, perhaps especially young women--seize on the most self-critical thoughts they can come up with? 'It turns out there's an area of your brain that's assigned the task of negative thinking,'" says some brain doctor.

"It's judgmental....It's a barometer of every social interaction you have."

"In women it's actually larger and more influential, as is the brain circuitry for observing emotions in others. 'We've been built to be immediately responsive to the needs of the nonverbal infant. That can be a good thing and a bad thing,'" says the same doctor.

"The hormonal surges in the female brain (the rising tide of estrogen and progesterone) make a woman more sensitive to emotional nuance, such a disapproval or rejection. The way you interpret feedback from other people can depend on where you are in your cycle."

"If you acquire some idea about yourself, that idea will have an impact on your brain circuitry and get built into how you think about yourself. Our human brains love to categorize and label. Then you grow accustomed to that label and often re-create that identity because it feels familiar."

"Up to 70 percent of girls say they would take a pill to lose five pounds; with males, it's maybe 15 percent. And puberty moves young men toward the 'ideal' male body image, strong and muscled, but moves young women away from the 'ideal' female body image, lean with no hips."

"Bad feedback, bad parenting, and bad experiences are much more powerful than good ones" (in memory).

The author of the article referred to herself as a "ruminator": someone who mulls, analyzes, worries about past, present, and future. She says these types are more at risk for taking in negative messages, "building a big file of evidence that you really are a screw-up or that people don't like you." "It's staying with the devil you know."

The good news is, "the brain remakes itself all the time....Every aspect of you is created by the brain revising itself in respond to your interactions with the world," says some other doctor.

However, "it takes a substantial effort over time to drive the brain in a new direction." But "It's not that different from [starting to take exercise classes] to change your physical self."

"We know that we can enhance memory; now, remarkably, it seems that we can improve outlook."

These ideas piggy back on that article Fermi posted about body size. I tend to lean toward more social and societal explanations of why women have these collective thoughts and experiences, but it's also interesting for me to consider that the brain and hormones play a part. I don't necessarily agree with all of these ideas, but I like reading about the way the brain works and universal behavior patterns because it helps me get a grip on my own mental habits (which have historically been like the "ruminator").


Fermi said...

Women aren't naturally more negative, we are only naturally more aware of positive and negative cues in our environment. My hypothesis is that a female's attitude on life is most similar to her primary caretaker's "observed" outlook.

For instance: people tell me that my mom is "the nicest person they have ever met." I'm not making this up. my mom ROCKS at kindness. She is also incredibly positive. I grow up and she is my primary caretaker and she is constantly telling me that I am drop-dead gorgeous, and today I still have a positive monologue in my head as a default.

The female child taking the primary caretaker's default stance is because the wiring for the negative thinking brain pathways gets used more often during initial brain development so it becomes easier and easier to think negatively/positively.

Now it is completely true that we are wired to think "is X approving or disapproving" and this is one reason why my boss used to stress me out: because he always had a "disapproving" face on. Then I read this book (that I strongly recommend) The Female Brain by Louann Md Brizendine and it gave the same nugget of information that we have these "approval or disapproval" questions constantly going on in our subconscious. Once I was conscious of it, I learned to look at my boss and just consider him to be making "that face he makes" rather than him disapproving of me.

Clay Perry said...

negativity doesn't recognize gender, just ask my wife.... i know too many people that are negative & it seems to run 50/50 i agree that women are more sensitive in general, both in awareness & emotion