I recently read an article that will probably make most women say, ‘I KNEW IT!!!”.  In a recent study at USC, it was found that during times of acute stress, men’s brains demonstrate less activity in the region which is designated for the understanding and interpretation of other people’s feelings.   To read more about this article in detail, you can click on the following link:   http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/09/29/men-respond-to-stress-by-shutting-down/18890.html.

I am experiencing mixed feelings about this study.  A part of me is excited that this study actually validates the experience of most women when they report that their significant other does not seem to pick up on their facial cues.  It proves the fact that the female notion that sometimes, men just don’t get it, is actually true and not just in our heads.  It might also help women to be more sensitive to men’s lack of empathy toward the emotions displayed by our facial gestures.  This way, women may not take it personally that he didn’t notice that you were on the verge of crying.  Instead, we may be apt to tell them how we feel as opposed to hoping that they will notice it based on our non-verbal cues. 

On the other hand, I feel like the validation of this type of study may backfire and give men an excuse to be ‘unaware’ of certain things that they are actually capable of noticing.  This can easily turn into many scenarios of “But babe, it’s not that I don’t care to notice, but it’s just that my brain works differently than yours…”.  For this reason, it is important to keep in  mind that this study was done in situations where men were experiencing acute stress.  This does not necessarily justify every scenario in which a man may not notice that his girlfriend/wife is upset.  However, it is important to keep in the back of your mind that he might not intentionally be oblivious to your feelings…  he may have actually not noticed. 

The last part of this study that was interesting is that when women are in a state of acute stress, the area of the brain that is devoted to the recognition and interpretation of other people’s feelings was overactive.  This means that when women are overly stressed out, we are more sensitive to others’ facial and non-verbal cues than in times of normal stress.  This also explains why we are more irritable during times of extreme stress.   We may actually be over-interpreting and over-analysing what people’s actions and gestures indicate. 

It seems that men and women would communicate better if we tell one another how we are feeling as opposed to assuming that the other person should know based on how we are acting.  Lack of healthy communication can lead to an array of psychological disabilities, some of which are depression and anxiety ( http://www.lapsych.com/families-dev-disabilities.asp).  That way, there is no lack of interpretation on the part of men and no over-interpretation on the part of women.  The take away message of this post…. Let’s all cut each other some slack and tell each other when we are feeling upset.  The less you bottle up, the less the damage when you explode…

-  Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

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