Sex differences in the time course of emotion

Emotion. 2007 May;7(2):429-37. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.7.2.429.


Conventional wisdom holds that women are more "emotional" than men. However, research evidence suggests that sex differences in emotion are considerably more complex. The authors tested hypotheses about sex differences in the engagement of the approach and avoidance motivational systems thought to underpin emotional responses. The authors measured reported emotional experience and startle response magnitude both during the presentation and after the offset of emotional stimuli that engage these motivational systems to assess whether men and women differ in their patterns of immediate response to emotional stimuli and in their patterns of recovery from these responses. Our findings indicated that women were more experientially reactive to negative, but not positive, emotional pictures compared to men, and that women scored higher than men on measure of aversive motivational system sensitivity. Although both men and women exhibited potentiation of the startle response during the presentation of negative pictures relative to neutral pictures, only women continued to show this relative potentiation during the recovery period, indicating that women were continuing to engage the aversive motivational system after the offset of negative emotional pictures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Reflex, Startle
  • Sex Characteristics*