Over the past decade or so the effects of emotional expression on health, and the differences between men and women in this regard, have become more widely understood. An increasing body of research shows the importance of emotional expression on emotional well-being and, while the exact mechanism between emotional expression and health is not entirely clear, the link appears to exist. Men are traditionally thought of as being less emotional than women but the evidence points more towards a situation where men tend to show emotions that are bad for them and the people around them. Here is a quick overview of some of the research findings about men, their emotional expressions and their health.
Compared to Women:
The Differences Explained
Most theorists agree that biological differences between men and women cannot explain differences in emotional expression. In terms of the supposed lack of emotion in men a more plausible explanation is the number and extent of social experiences men encounter from childhood that inhibit emotional expression. It has been pointed out that men and women live in different worlds when it comes to emotional expression. From early childhood most boys are exposed to fewer emotion-oriented conversations and are not encouraged to express emotions verbally. Yet, for example, the expression of rage if personal possessions or status is threatened, is seen not only as typically male, but in some situations encouraged and admired. The point is that men appear to experience exactly the same emotions as women but their expression is often and typically very different.
Men's Health & Emotional Expression
A well known psychologist, James Pennebaker, has demonstrated that emotional expressions can benefit health by the simple device of keeping a diary. The diary provides a outlet for emotional expression and not only appears to have a positive emotional effect but improves immune function as well. In fact written emotional expression has been researched in terms of benefits to physical health, physiological functioning and daily living activities; in each case with positive findings. Could the simple act of keeping a diary be a useful compromise for men and bridge the gap between their inability to transmit, receive and manage emotional messages?
Source: adapted from Lee, C & Glynn Owens, R (2002) The Psychology of Men's Health. Open University Press.