Physiological Arousal and Patterns
of Emotional Expression
When I get mad, I get all hot and I don't talk to anybody I usually go upstairs and start playing with my toys, because when I do that it calms me down. Sometimes I eat cold stuff like ice cream. I feel mad inside but I don't think about it, and then sometimes I play Barbie dolls and I make the Barbie dolls have a fight and then it makes me forget about it.
—Katie, age 9
We don't always say what we feel, but our bodily processes may change. For example, in anxiety-producing situations, we may sweat more, or involuntarily raise our blood pressures. Lie detector tests are based on the premise that if we are anxious about concealing the truth, our skin conductance will change. Skin conductance is a measure of the ease with which our skin conducts or resists electricity based on how wet it is.
Are there gender differences in the physiology of emotional expressions ? The answer is yes, but with many qualifications. The patterns of gender differences are complex, because arousal shows so much variability from one situation to another as well as from one measure to another, such as heart rate compared to skin conductance. For example, men sometimes show higher skin conductance than women do in the course of conflictual marital interactions, but women sometimes show higher skin conductance than men when watching other people in distressing situations, such as coping with severe illnesses. Sometimes gender differences in physiological responses do not appear; sometimes they appear only in specific contexts and for specific types of responses.
I will focus on gender differences in the most frequently studied physiological responses, including heart rate, blood pressure, endocrine levels,