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Bad news likely to stress women out more than men

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 16 2012 10:02 a.m. MDT

Women's stress levels soar when absorbing disturbing news stories, according to a new study.

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Women's stress levels soar, in comparison to their male counterparts, when absorbing disturbing news stories, according to a new study published last Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.

"It's difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there," lead author Marie-France Marin, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, said in a press release. "And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case."

Researchers looked at 65 participants who were divided into four groups, asked to read negative stories revolving around accidents and murders, or neutral stories about film releases or park openings.

The subjects took saliva tests before and after reading the stories, which showed levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. The subjects were called in and asked about what they read the day after the experiments.

Women who read negative news showed higher stress levels after intellect and memory experiments, compared to women who read neutral news, CBS reported.

"The differences in stress reactions could be evolutionary. The researchers believe that because women place a higher emphasis on the survival of their offspring, it could make them more stressed when they hear bad news — in turn making them more empathetic," CBS reported.

While highly preliminary because the study was so small, the results may help explain why women appear to be at higher risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than are men, the Los Angeles Times reported. "Once traumatized, a woman may be more "stress reactive" to subsequent stressors. And her sharp and enduring memory of the distressing event may continue to cause stress all by itself."

A more interesting factor may be how women, though more stressed, still live longer than men, Dr. Terrie Moffitt, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, told BBC.

"Stress researchers confront a real gender puzzle: As a group, women seem more reactive to stressors, but then they go on to outlive men by quite a few years," he said. "How do women manage to neutralize the effects of stress on their cardiovascular systems? An answer to that question would improve health for all of us."

Recognizing that they can be particularly vulnerable to news-related stress can help lessen the burden of women by engaging in coping mechanisms like exercise and meditation, or simply being mindful of the potential effect of mass media, Time reported.

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.

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