Do Men and Women React Differently Under Pressure?

Numerous studies have shown that stress and pressure can significantly affect decision-making and memory. They also have found that men and women handle stress in different ways.

When it comes to stress, gender does matter, says researchers from the University of Southern California in a 2009 study. They found that men and women acted similarly when in situations that were stress-free, but when the stress levels elevated they responded quite differently, with men reacting by taking more risks while women did just the opposite and were more cautious.

The scientists took 45 subjects and had them play a game with a balloon, which they termed a risk/reward evaluation in disguise. The goal of the game was to win the most money by pumping the balloon, with the value of the balloon growing with each pump while the risk also increased that the balloon would pop as it grew bigger.

What they found was that males took 12.5% more pumps, responding to stress by pumping the balloon more. Females took 21% fewer pumps, responding to the stress by pumping less.

How does this relate to real life? According to a 2011 University of California Davis study the results were similar. They took 27,000 investors (stock market traders) and gauged how they reacted to high-risk activity. Men put 45% more trades in their portfolios than their female counterparts. However, the higher trading rates led to poorer performance levels, meaning men took more risks, but lost more money.

As scientists learn more about the decision-making process in our brains they also see more and more gender differences. Although further studies are needed in different occupations, these two tests show interesting similarities.

There are things one can do to make better decisions by finding less stress.

  • Think before making a decision. Take the time to process the information and weigh the pros and cons. You may not be making split decisions, but you will be making better and more informed ones that have a better chance of success.
  • Reward yourself for good choices. There are benefits to not being impulsive.
  • Learn to distress. Either do some meditation or breathing techniques that calm you down, or find outside activities that will allow you to take your mind off your problems for a little while and allow you to come back to working on your problems with a refreshed attitude.

About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at


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