Negative news stories in the media raise women’s stress levels more than men's, making them more sensitive to stressful situations, according to new research out of the University of Montreal.
The study, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One, determined bad news tended to raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol in women more than men, affecting their physiological responses to real-life stressful situations later.
"It's difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there,” said lead author Marie-France Marin, with the University of Montreal’s Centre for Studies on Human Stress of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital. "And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case." SPECIAL: These 4 Things Happen Right Before a Heart Attack — Read More.
For the study, researchers divided 60 people into four groups and asked them to read actual news stories. The researchers also took samples of the participants' saliva to determine their cortisol levels, which rise when we perceive a threatening situation, raising stress levels.
One group of men and second of women read "neutral" news stories, about subjects such as a new park or a new film. The other two men’s and women’s groups read negative news stories about murders or accidents. Saliva samples were taken again in order to determine the effect of these news stories.
The participants were then asked to perform a series of tasks involving memory and intellect designed to determine how people react to stressful situations. They were also asked to talk about what they had read.
The researchers said they were surprised by the findings: Levels of cortisol in the women who read negative news stories were higher, compared to those who read the neutral news articles, but there was no similar trend in men.
"Although the news stories alone did not increase stress levels, they did make the women more reactive, affecting their physiological responses to later stressful situations," Marin explained. "Moreover, the women were able to remember more of the details of the negative stories. It is interesting to note that we did not observe this phenomenon amongst the male participants."SPECIAL: These 4 Things Happen Right Before a Heart Attack — Read More.
The researchers speculated that a greater emphasis on the survival of offspring may have influenced the evolution of the female stress system, leading women to be more susceptible to threatening situations.
"More studies should be undertaken to better understand how gender, generational differences and other socio-cultural factors affect our experience, as individuals, of the negative information that perpetually surrounds us," Marin said.