Gender differences in coping with stress. The role of social support in coping with stress, types of social support including instrumental, emotional and esteem support. - Psychology Center (2023)

Description, AO1 Gender differences in coping with stress:

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One of the criticisms of research on the acute stress response (the SAM pathway) is that it was derived from studies involving male participants. Males are preferred because their hormone levels do not change due to an ovulation cycle. Subsequent research with female participants has shown that there are significant gender differences in coping with stress. In this section of the booklet, we'll look at the physiological and psychological differences between gender and stress management.

Physiological (biological) explanations of gender differences:

  • Taylor and others. (2000) first proposed the stress response notion of "caring and being friendly", suggesting that this may have evolved as a typical response in women in threatening situations.
  • She argued that the fight-or-flight response was exhibited by both sexes, but for women there was a greater adaptive advantage to elicit a lean-and-befriend response, and therefore it was the most common female stress response.
  • The reason the caring and befriending response is a more adaptive response for females is because females are more invested in each individual reproductive process than males are due to differential parental investments. Therefore, female stress responses evolved to maximize the survival of their offspring.
  • How does this happen on a physiological level? Men and women experience the same physiological response to stress (production of adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol).
  • In addition to the production of these hormones, another hormone (oxytocin) is produced in both men and women. Oxytocin (often called the "love" hormone) promotes bonding and general sociability.
  • In men, testosterone levels also increase (which has a depressant effect on oxytocin), so men become more aggressive (due to testosterone) and women seek closeness with other people (due to unrepressed oxytocin). This response would be stronger in women who are breastfeeding, as oxytocin is being produced at this time.

Description, AO1 Psychological explanations of sex differences:

Lazarus and Folkman (1984) distinguished two different coping styles for dealing with stress.

(1)Problem-oriented coping:A way to deal with stress by addressing the factors that cause it, usually in a practical way.

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(2)Emotionally Focused Coping:One way to deal with stress is by addressing the symptoms of stress, for example B. the anxiety that accompanies stress.

Stress can be managed by attacking the problem itself (problem-oriented), but this is often not possible and therefore an alternative approach is to reduce the stress response (emotion-oriented). There are gender differences in how these styles are adopted between men and women.

Key study Gender differences and problem- and emotion-focused coping

Several studies have found that men are more likely to have problem focus and women are more likely to have emotional focus. Peterson and others. (2006) examined this assumption.

Procedure:Just over 1,000 men and women seeking fertility treatment at the hospital were recruited into a study of coping styles and asked to complete a variety of questionnaires, including the Ways of Coping Questionnaire (designed by Lazarus and Folkman).


  • Significant gender differences observed.
  • Women used confrontational coping (style in which they try to change the situation to lessen the emotional impact (emotion-focused coping).
  • Women were also more likely to seek social support and avoidance compared to men.
  • In contrast, men engaged in problem solving and distanced themselves from the problem (a kind of problem focus).
  • There were some emotion-focused coping strategies in men, suggesting that gender differences are ambiguous.Diploma:Although, to some extent, it appears that women adopt a more emotion-oriented coping style and men adopt a more problem-oriented coping style. For the most part, what can be seen is that the differences between men's and women's mental stress management are ambiguous.

Assessment, AO3 of gender differences in coping with stress:


(1)To point:Research has shown that women don't just tend to adopt a friendly stress response.Example:For example, it would also be adaptive for females to be aggressive to protect their young. Taylor and others. note that although females are generally less aggressive than males, they are aggressive towards an intruder who threatens their young. In other words, they tend to be more aggressive than the more general "fight or flight" response of males in situations that call for defense.Assessment:This suggests that the female response to stress is not straightforward. Her answer is not just nurturing and befriending, but encompasses a whole range of strategies tailored to women's parental investment.

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(1)To point:There is a lack of research support for the difference between male and female coping focus.Example:For example, the finding that men are more problem-oriented and women are more emotional is not supported by most research studies. Hamilton and Fagot (1988) evaluated male and female freshman students over an 8-week period and found no gender differences in the type of "focus" adopted by men and women.Assessment:This is a weakness due to lack of confidence in the results on gender differences and stress.

(2)To point:Another weakness in considering gender differences in stress and emotion coping and problem-based coping is that the research relies on self-report methods as a means of data collection.Example:For example, Peterson et al. (2006) used the Forms of Coping Questionnaire to assess how women and men deal with stressors. This requires participants to reflect retrospectively on the stressors they experienced and the ways in which they coped with those stressors.Assessment:This is a weakness, as the collected data may not be accurate, in which case the study would not measure what it is intended to measure and therefore lack internal validity (a cause and effect relationship could not be established).

Description, AO1 The role of social support in coping with stress

People are supported in stressful times by having a general safety net of relationships. For example, Nabi et al. (2013) studied 400 university Facebook users and found that the number of friends was associated with greater perceptions of social support and lower levels of stress and physical illness. They concluded that "the more friends the better" is the best predictor of less stress. In general, improving social opportunities is beneficial Dickinson et al. (2011) suggest that this may be an important issue for the elderly. Their reduced social contact could be a major factor in their poor health.

Different types of support:

Gender differences in coping with stress. The role of social support in coping with stress, types of social support including instrumental, emotional and esteem support. - Psychology Center (1)

Explanation of the effects of social support:

(1) The buffer hypothesis:Indicates that social support is particularly important in times of stress, but not necessary at other times. In times of stress, friends protect individuals from the negative effects of stress (they act as a buffer); They help friends think differently about stress. This type of support is considered an instrumental type because it is problem-oriented.

(2) Direct physiological effects:Several studies have shown the direct effect of social support on autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity, possibly to enhance relaxation.

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The role of social support in coping with stress Key Research

Description, AO1 Social Support and Stress Management Main Research: Kamarck et al (1990)

Meta:The aim of this study was to examine the role of social support in coping with stress.


  • 39 student volunteers were recruited to perform a difficult mental task (stress) while their physiological responses were monitored (which physiological responses were monitored? heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, pupil dilation).
  • Each participant attended the lab session alone or was asked to bring a close friend of the same gender with them.
  • During the mental task, the friend was asked to touch the partner's wrist. At the same time, to prevent the participant from feeling evaluated by the friend, the partner was given a task to complete and therefore did not monitor what the participants were doing.
  • All participants completed a mood and personality questionnaire.Results:
  • Participants who were with their boyfriend showed lower physiological responses (eg, lower heart rate) than those who were alone (supporting the direct physiological effect of social support).
  • For some of the tasks, only Type A participants showed reduced physiological responses. This also suggests that the buffering hypothesis is only experienced by those who show a high response to stressful situations.

Diploma:Research shows that the presence of social support can help individuals more effectively deal with the negative effects of stress.

Assessment, AO3 of research on the role of social support in coping with stress:


(1)To point:Research has shown that there are gender differences when it comes to the effectiveness of social support as a stress management tool.Example:For example, Lucknow et al. (1998) found that there was a gender difference in 25 of the 26 studies, suggesting that women are more likely to seek social support than men. However, research has also shown that there are other gender differences in the use of different types of social support. For example, men tend to use more instrumental social support than women (because of their tendency to deal with stress in a problem-oriented way), while women respond more to emotional types of social support.Assessment:This is a weakness, as most research in this area focuses on all male or female samples, thus calling into question the validity of studies that focus on social support and coping.

(2)To point:Research has shown that while social support often focuses on self-kind support, the presence of pets can also reduce stress.Example:For example, Allen (2003) reviewed research on pets and reported that, for example, the presence of pets lowered blood pressure in children who read aloud, protected the elderly against stress from life events, and reduced the cardiovascular risk. One study even found that talking to pets was more effective than talking to humans in reducing the stress response.Assessment:This shows that the emotional benefits of social support may have more to do with not feeling lonely (which can cause anxiety).

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(3)To point:Another weakness is that the relative importance of social support can be questioned.Example:For example, Kobassa et al. (1985) conducted a study on the effects of resilience on stress, but also included assessments of social support and physical activity in this study of 70 executives. They found that social support was the least important factor in reducing stress levels and resilience was the most important.Assessment:This is a weakness because the results of the Kabassa study contradict the original findings on the positive effects of social support on coping with stress and therefore reduce the reliability of the research.


1. Health, Illness, and Social Support in the Asian American Community
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2. 642 Week 4 Ch 4 Pt 2 Hutchison
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3. Social Support Network of the Elderly (PSY)
4. Caring for Family Members with Chronic or Serious Illnesses Roles, Challenges, and Coping
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5. Lecture 15 Social Support and the Health Benefits of Relationships 3 March 2015
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