Differences between Men and Women in Posttraumatic Growth (PTG)

October 27, 2017 by  

Yesterday I defined Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) as the positive change as a result of struggles after a life crisis.  A very interesting study tried to figure out whether men and women differ in their ability to weather crises and experience growth.  Remember, in general men and women tend to score similarly on most psychological variables – men and women are more alike than different (in spite of the popular press’s desire to highlight differences).  If you don’t believe me, please read Janet Hyde’s wonderful article, “The Gender Similarities Hypothesis” in the September, 2005, issue of the American Psychologist.

But, I digress.  There does seem to be a difference in men and women’s reporting about growth after a crisis.  Even when the researchers accounted for the types of crises that men and women might not share equally (sexual violence and war are 2 good examples), they found differences. I’ll give you the citation at the end so you can follow this up if you like.  The group of researchers analyzed 70 studies that met their strict criteria.  They had more than 16,000 subjects, so you can see that this is a strong study.

Women reported more growth after crises than men did.  Why?  Backstory:  Women are more than 4X likely to develop PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), women report more PTSD symptoms, women report greater severity of PTSD symptoms.  So, if they seem to have more reaction to trauma, what allows women to experience greater growth after a trauma?

Women and men both are exposed to trauma and experience bad things.  Women have more symptoms because they perceive situations as more threatening that men do; when threatened, they experience more stress; and feel more loss of control than men do.  Probably, because of these facts, women lives have more upheaval.  They may be forced to face their distress.  Women tend to contemplate and brood more than men but it works for them here.  They brood constructively; they recall their strengths; they rely on their social networks; and they use therapy more often.  These are the ways that people grow and change. The women face their emotions, they do not avoid their feelings.  They “work through” the problems, the feelings, the beliefs connected to the trauma and come out healthier.

Growth after trauma comes from actively struggling with the problem, the aftermath, the mess, the horrible feelings.  You can make sense – emotionally and brain-wise – out of life events.  This is one way that growth happens.

The study referred to is by Tanya Vishnevsky, Arnie Cann, Lawrence G. Calhoun, Richard G. Tedeschi, and George J. Demakis (all from U. of North Carolina at Charlotte).  Gender Differences in Self-Reported Posttraumatic Growth: A Meta-Analysis, 2010, Psychology of Women Quarterly, volume 34, pp. 110-120.

Men, Women, Mars, Venus – the world is flat!

February 2, 2015 by  

A brand new study was published in this month’s American Psychologist (1/15, V 70 #1) asking yet again, are men and women more alike or are they more different? These researchers had a new statistical method and reviewed over 100 meta-analyses of all the relevant gender studies. We are talking about 12,000,000, yes, 12 million participants. These studies covered aspects of personality, ability, interests, aptitudes and behaviors.

Statue in front of Provincetown library

Statue in front of Provincetown library. 

Years ago, everyone seemed to accept the notion that men and women were very different. Therefore, we had a ton of books about the Mars vs Venus thing. It suited our stereotypes. We all accepted the gender beliefs about aggression, talkativeness, emotionality and so on. In 2005, Janet Hyde and her colleagues published research that said these gender differences were relatively small and suggested a “gender similarities” hypothesis rather than the “gender differences” hypothesis that we all grew up on. Wow, this was like hearing oatmeal was bad for us and donuts were good. There was a great deal of reaction. The findings went against our dearest stereotypes.

Well folks, here is another, even bigger study with more data that says basically the same thing. Gender differences are small, in spite of TV, film, cultural stereotypes and our own long-held beliefs.  Differences are small. We are more alike than different. The distinctions seem to occur in the extremes, the tail ends of behaviors, not in the wide middle range. There were some differences that researchers noted: men scored higher on masculinity, mental rotation ability (don’t ask me what this is)

, importance of physical attractiveness in choosing a mate, and aggression. Women scored higher on: reactivity to painful stimuli, peer attachment, and interest in persons as opposed to things. From the hundreds of factors compared, these are very few. 85.5% of differences were small or very small.

There was not enough information to say whether this holds across ages, cultures, or time periods.