Health

Bad news stories 'alter women's stress response'

  • 11 October 2012
  • From the section Health
Woman reading paper
Are women affected by the news more than men?

Bad news stories, such as those about murder, seem to alter the way women respond to stressful situations, according to a small study.

Women produced more stress hormones in tests if they had read negative newspaper stories.

The study on 60 people, published in the journal PLoS One, showed there was no equivalent effect in men.

Experts said the findings showed "fascinating" differences between the sexes.

Researchers in Canada compiled newspaper clippings of negative stories, including accidents and murders, as well as neutral stories such as film premieres.

Men and women read either negative or neutral stories and then did a scientific stress test. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, were measured throughout the study.

One of the researchers, Marie-France Marin, from the University of Montreal, said: "Although the news stories alone did not increase stress levels, they did make the women more reactive, affecting their physiological responses to later stressful situations."

Men's cortisol levels were not affected.

She added: "It's difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there.

"And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case."

'Gender puzzle'

The scientists suggested that women may be naturally better at identifying threats to their children, which affects the way they respond to stress.

Professor Terrie Moffitt, from the institute of psychiatry at King's College London, said: "According to self-report studies, women say they are more 'stress reactive' on average than men.

"This study adds fascinating new evidence of change in a stress hormone after an experimental... challenge.

"Stress researchers confront a real gender puzzle: As a group, women seem more reactive to stressors, but then they go on to outlive men by quite a few years.

"How do women manage to neutralise the effects of stress on their cardiovascular systems? An answer to that question would improve health for all of us."

Other experts warned that the study was small so the reported effect would need further testing.

More on this story