How people handle anger varies with gender, according to studies by a Pacific University psychology professor.
Women experience anger in response to many of the same circumstances as men and may even experience similar levels of anger, says Dr. Mary Kay Biaggio, but they are prone to suppress and internalize their anger while men tend to externalize theirs."The cost of this suppression may for many women be lowered self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness and fear of responding to or of even recognizing a provoking or unfair condition that causes the anger in the first place," she says.
For example, if a supervisor criticizes an employee for a trivial matter, male employees would be more likely than females to view their supervisor as unreasonable and to consider the incident their supervisor's fault. Women would be more likely to blame themselves for the criticism and to attempt to correct the problem.
Though individual men and women may respond in a variety of ways to this type of provocation, Biaggio's research suggests that there will be some differences, in general, between the sexes in how they construe such provocation.
When men have aggressive impulses, they are expected to express them by showing anger, while women are encouraged to suppress their own anger.
Biaggio, program director and professor at the Oregon Graduate School of Professional Psychology who has studied anger for nearly 10 years, used two experiments in her study.
In a field study, 72 college students recorded all of their anger arousing incidents for two weeks. Categories of provoking incidents and of the feelings they aroused were developed.
The men reported more provoking incidents than did the women, and men had more incidents stemming from annoying or ignorant persons. The women reported more anger in response to criticism or rejection, and they listed more feelings of hurt.
In a laboratory study, 51 college students imagined one neutral and three anger-provoking scenes and reported the extent to which they would experience anger if the scenes were real.
The only gender difference found in this study was that men reacted to criticism with greater feelings of hostility and hate.
"In the real world," Biaggio says, "it may be the case that men are more likely to respond to irritations with anger and that women are more prone to inhibit feelings of anger when subjected to real life provocations."