The present study found gender differences in response to individually calibrated imagery of personal stressful situations when compared with neutral relaxing situations and alcohol-cue situations across subjective, behavioral, and physiological domains. These differences may have implications for gender differences in risk for stress-related disorders. Consistent with hypotheses, women reported and expressed greater sad and anxious emotion than men following stress, even though they experienced equal (for HR, SBP) or lower (for DBP) physiological arousal than men. Furthermore, stress- and alcohol-cue-related alcohol craving was correlated with greater subjective negative emotion for men but not for women.
As predicted, women reported greater subjective sadness and anxiety following the stress induction than men. Also, women showed greater emotion behaviorally and in their bodily response than men. Our measure of behavioral/bodily arousal largely tapped anxiety (e.g., restlessness) or sadness (e.g., crying) behaviors and bodily sensations and thus may best be considered a behavioral or bodily indicator of anxiety/sadness. Taken together, these findings for subjective and behavioral measures are consistent with past findings that women report experiencing and expressing more sadness and anxiety than men (e.g., Brody, 1999
; Levenson et al., 1994
) and extend these findings to personally relevant emotional stress situations.
It is interesting, however, that although women had greater subjective and behavioral emotional arousal following stress, their HR and SBP responses were not different from men’s and their DBP was actually lower than men’s (although baseline HR was higher for women than men, consistent with the literature—Allen et al., 1993
). Women may be more likely to label the same or lower physiological arousal as sadness/anxiety related than men or may experience it subjectively and express it behaviorally with greater intensity. Women may also focus cognitively on sadness/anxiety more than men—-for example, women are more likely to ruminate on sad and anxious emotions than men whereas men are more likely to distract attention away from these emotional states (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1999
). Rumination has been linked to depressive and anxious symptoms, symptoms which are more common for women than men (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000
). Alternatively, as hypothesized by Taylor et al. (2000)
, it may be that cardiovascular arousal and the traditional “fight” or “flight” response is not a prominent domain of stress experience for women.
For both men and women, subjective emotion was related to behavioral arousal and with some marker of cardiovascular arousal, although this measure was HR for women and BP for men. This may be because women tend to have higher HR and men higher BP at rest and following stressors (Kudielka et al., 2004
; Matthews and Stoney, 1988
; Stoney et al., 1988
), leading to greater range and more ability to find significance. Interestingly, the type of subjective emotion that showed correlations was different for men versus women. Behavioral and bodily response was associated with subjective anger for men (but not women) and subjective fear for women (but not men). This is consistent with gender roles in U.S. culture that fear is more acceptable for women and anger for men (Brody, 1999
), leading those systems to be most integrated with behaviors. One implication of this finding is that men may be more at risk for disorders involving low fear and high anger, such as externalizing disorders (e.g., Antisocial Personality Disorder) (Chaplin and Cole, 2005
For both men and women, the different response domains were moderately associated with one another. This is an important finding, given that some research has failed to find correlations across different markers of emotional arousal (Baum et al., 1992
). We may have found greater convergence than past studies due to the use of personally relevant emotional stress stories, which leads to greater range of response, permitting the ability to detect associations.
Contrary to prediction, the present study did not find gender differences in alcohol craving in response to stress or alcohol-cue imagery. However, craving was associated with subjective emotion and behavioral/bodily responses to stress, and with subjective emotion and HR response to alcohol cue, for men but not for women. These data suggest a closer association between emotional stress reward motivation in these social drinking men than women. It is important to note that while men on average drank more frequently than women (see ), and this is consistent with national norms (Russell et al., 2004
), drinking levels were not associated with alcohol craving measures in either men or women. Thus, these findings are not simply due to men drinking more frequently than women. The findings may suggest that, even among light to moderate social drinkers, men are more likely to cope with elevated negative emotion with desire for alcohol. This is consistent with past findings that men are more likely than women to report using alcohol as a way to cope with stress (Nolen-Hoeksema and Harrell, 2002
; Park and Levenson, 2002
). If this is true, it may help to explain the greater vulnerability among men for alcohol-use disorders (Kessler et al., 1994