I should note that the sample size was small – 15 fathers and 15 mothers – and needs to be independently replicated. Further, the Royal Mail is in the business of selling greeting cards and released the results just before father’s day.
The Royal Mail states that “the experiment found that men responded twice as strongly as women with higher levels of physiological emotion when presented with heart-warming content”. But women reported a greater emotional response than men. They quote neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis as saying that “men feel emotion just as much as women, sometimes more strongly, but are less willing to express these emotions openly due to expectations put on them by society.”
The Royal Mail then pitches their greeting cards.
This is interesting, but I’d like to see more research. The claim that “men responded twice as strongly as women” seems like an exaggeration. But men being as emotional as women, yet hiding it due to cultural expectations, rings true for me.
In a previous post I wrote about researchers from Harvard Medical School finding that baby boys are more labile and don’t regulate their emotions as well as girls. It takes mothers longer to redirect their sons.
Differences between male and female brains are complex and often misrepresented. We’re talking averages here, but even at an early age girls do seem to show more empathy than boys. And women are better at identifying emotions while men have better spatial skills.
Women are stereotyped as being more emotional than men because women have a natural advantage for identifying and articulating emotions. But that doesn’t mean men don’t experience emotions less intensely.
As I wrote in my post on male stoicism, a cultural demand for men to suppress emotions is an over-correction. Stoicism’s basic idea is still of great value, however: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength” (Marcus Aurelius).
But to exercise power over one’s mind one must first learn to identify one’s emotions and then articulate them – the alternative being uncontrolled emotional expression. And by control I don’t mean repression but rather healthy expression.
Lately there’s been a lot of talk about EQ, or emotional intelligence. From the pre-industrial past through the industrial revolution men’s greater physical strength gave them an advantage (and often the disadvantage of becoming beasts of burden). In today’s post-industrial world, however, a combination of IQ and EQ is required for success, and women have an advantage with the latter.
But emotional intelligence and empathy can be taught, and the younger the better.