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Study on Gender Ratios and Emotional Expression

Emotions are subjectively experienced, affect-laden mental and physiological states that are associated with a wide variety of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Everyday experience tells us that our emotions play a crucial role in our lives. They influence our interpersonal encounters, and theorists like Charles Darwin (1872) argue that through the course of evolution, emotions have had a functional and adaptive role, whereas others like Freud focus on emotions as having dysfunctional roles that affect an individual due to past experiences, rather than focusing on the present. The adaptive nature of human emotions was discussed in the 20th century in terms of appraisal – acting or reacting according to how it benefits or harms the individual (Lazarus, 1991). The strategic role of emotions has been debated, and it was found that pure self-interest in human behaviour can be disastrous (Frank, 1988).

Emotional expression, emotional experience and emotional arousal have been conceptualized as three primary components of emotion (Kennedy-Moore & Watson, 1999). Kennedy-Moore and Watson defined emotional expression as “observable verbal and nonverbal behaviors that communicate and/or symbolize emotional experience. Expression can occur with or without self-awareness. It is at least somewhat controllable, and it can involve varying degrees of deliberate intent.” Darwin suggested in his book The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals that not only are expressions universal and evolutionary, but they are not unique to humans – animals express emotions in similar ways. He said that emotional expressions were manifestations of behavioural mechanisms that once had a purpose, in evolution or formative years, but are not kept into adulthood.

The view that facial expressions were not valid indicators of emotion was widely accepted despite contradictory evidence (Bruner & Tagiuri, 1954). Darwin stressed on facial expressions. Their communicative values were also considered. Eibl-Eibesfeld(1975) studied facial expressions, such as smiling, and other specific facial behaviors, such as the eyebrow flash, in the context of their adaptive value in a communicative framework. A study by Vuilleurmier and Schwartz (2001) showed that emotional facial expressions capture attention. Darwin was on the ‘nature’ side of the nature-versus-nurture spectrum. Theorists subscribing to the nurture theories criticized him greatly, although he recognized that gestures used in expression were socially learned, a result of nurture. Lakoff and Kovecses (1983) theorized that emotional metaphors are likely to be culturally specific. Ekman (1973) argued that facial expressions differ culturally and racially. The same expression can mean different thing to two different cultures. The comparison of emotions cross-culturally reveals several similarities and differences between the emotions themselves, which in turn provides a foundation for considering the similarities and differences in their expression (Shaver, Wu, Schwartz & Clark, 1992), and the mutual influence of emotions and culture was also examined (Kitayama & Markus, 1994). It was found that basic categories of emotions are culturally universal, while subcategories are culturally specific (Russell, 1991). Some theories suggest that the vocabulary used to describe emotions plays a role in the cognitive processing of them and hence their representation. On one hand, theorists like Harré (1986) said that the fact that there are culturally diverse emotion vocabularies proves that there are culturally diverse emotions and expressions. On the other hand, Plutchik (1980) wrote that “the appearance in all languages of words like angry, afraid and happy, suggests that these words represent universal experiences”. Generally, those writers who accentuate the role of culture in shaping emotions anticipate differences in the emotional lexicons of different cultures (Russell, 1991). The English language has over 2000 emotion-denoting words, many of which have no equivalents in other languages. Theorists like Leff (1973) and Hiatt (1978) point out that some languages use the same words to describe what are distinct emotions in English; for example, in some African languages, the word for anger and sadness is the same. These theorists find that the emotions and the language are mutually influential.

Scientists like German psychologist Klaus Scherer (1986) have made progress in identifying the vocal expressions of emotion. Scherer linked affect expression with the origin of language and made a distinction between ‘push factors’ and ‘pull factors’ – again, nature and nurture determinants of expression.

Studies on blind children support the notion that expressions depend on innate factors rather than visual learning (Charlesworth & Kreutzer, 1973), whereas some research supports the connection between expression and emotion as a result of learning which has a high probability of occurring in all cultures (Allport, 1924).

Numerous empirical studies have demonstrated both mental and physical health benefits associated with emotional expression, as well as negative psychological effects, which are associated with inhibited or suppressed expression (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986; Francis & Pennebaker, 1992). Greenberg and Stone (1992) found in a study that beneficial health effects were more for subjects disclosing more traumatic events as compared to those disclosing less severe experiences. Pennebaker (1982) and Wegner, Schneider, Carter and White (1987) offer explanations as to why expression of emotions is beneficial to physical health. Actively inhibiting thoughts, feelings and impulses requires physiological work, which stresses the body, making it prone to illness. Actively confronting these feelings undoes the stress and strengthens resistance. Studies also show that when people encounter individuals who exhibit emotional suppression, they experience physiological stress, such as high blood pressure (Butler, 2003). Emotional expression is necessary for the development of “emotional intimacy” – people feel closer to others when they are able to express their emotions freely (Kennedy-Moore & Watson, 1999). The drive to emotionally express oneself is a natural physiological response to distress (Baker, Thomas, Thomas & Owens, 2003). In contrast, some studies show that non-expression is preferable, as expression can intensify distress and be destructive to interpersonal relationships (Laird, 1974; Tavris, 1989). These studies find that expression of emotions like anger lead to a hostile attitude and exclusion of other emotions.

Studies have been conducted on emotional expressivity as a function of age (Polce-Lynch, Myers, Kilmartin, Forssmann-Falck & Kliewer, 1998). Infants as young as 5 months can differentiate distinct emotional expressions, both vocal and facial (Caron, Caron and MacLean, 1988). Studies show that socialization of affect expression occurs during early infancy and continues into childhood (Malatesta & Haviland, 1982) where the ability of expression modulation develops (Ekman & Friesen, 1975). A study by Levenson, Carstensen, Friesan and Ekman (1991) showed that the emotional facial expressions of elderly people were comparable to those of younger people’s, and that elderly women experience more intense emotions than elderly men.

Emotional development begins in childhood and continues during adolescence. At this time, much of an individual’s time is spent at school. Here, he or she is amongst peers, and how he or she behaves and what he or she thinks is greatly influenced by them. Adolescence is associated with emotional stress and conflict. Various dimensions in school life affect the individual’s social-emotional functioning (Roeser, Eccles & Sameroff, 2000). A study by Papini (1989) explored adolescent gender differences in patterns of emotional self-disclosure to family and friends. It was found that females disclose their emotions more than males. In exploring the socialization of gender differences in emotional expression, Brody (2000) found that early socialization factors such as parent’s nurturance being the same, girls and boys respond with different patterns of emotional expression. Cultural factors are causal to this, and these factors are often imbibed first in school. Peers are reinforcing agents for maintaining conformity to society’s norms, and popularity and acceptance in school are based on stereotypical behaviour (Brody, 2000).

Certain emotions are often associated with gender, and at the same time women are generally regarded as being more emotional than men. Several studies have shown that this difference between the genders in emotional expression does exist (Brody & Hall, 1993; Wood, 1997) but there is no difference in the underlying emotional experience (Fischer, 1993). The difference in processing these experiences is what causes difference in expression, and the difference in processing is caused by societal expectations as well as biological factors. Brody argued that when gender differences in emotional expressions do occur, they can be traced to social processes such as dissimilar gender roles, status and power imbalances, and differing socialization histories of males and females (Gender and Emotion: Beyond Stereotypes, 1997). Thus, stereotypes arise – women are believed to be more affectionate and more likely to express fear, sadness and vulnerability, whereas men are perceived as being more aggressive and more likely to express anger (Briton & Hall, 1995; Fabes & Martin, 1991). There seems to be an unending cycle created – from stereotypes emerge stereotypes. Gender differences in emotional expressiveness are socialized in accordance with social models that dictate where, when and how emotions can be expressed by each gender in any culture (Underwood, Coie & Herbsman, 1992). These prescriptive social norms are called display rules. The norms of society seem to prevent boys from getting in touch with their emotions – stoicism is manly. A study conducted by Wagstaff and Rowledge showed men to score significantly higher than women in stoicism, defined by them as a lack of emotional involvement, lack of emotional expression and exercising emotional control or endurance. Not only do men who express ‘womanly’ emotions such as depression and fear face harsher evaluation than women who express the same (Siegel & Alloy, 1990), but are also less likely to be comforted than are women (Barbee et al, 1993). Similarly, women expressing aggression face more negative consequences than do men (Lerner 1980; Eagly & Steffen, 1986). Studies show that even at school age, girls are more adept at repressing negative expressions, including facial expressions and behaviours, than boys, suggesting they are more motivated by social approval (Cole, 1986; Davis, 1995). Women are expected to express emotions which facilitate interpersonal relationships such as warmth and support (Hochschild, 1983). Studies by Perry and Bussey (1979) have shown that children imitate their peers’ sex-role stereotypic emotions rather than their non-sex-role stereotypic emotions. Differences in the biological make up of the two genders, such as structural differences in the cerebral cortex are also likely to play a role in emotional development. Thus, stereotypes have become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Seeing that society plays an important role in the gender differences in emotional expression, the specific factors that influence males to develop ‘restrictive emotionality’, as termed by Levant (as cited in Fischer, 1995), can be explored to better understand their nature. This study aims to determine the role that the gender ratio at a secondary school level plays in the development of the emotional expressivity of males. Adolescence is a time of intense emotional development and subjection to peer pressure and trying to ‘fit in’. Since this development is affected by the peer group, it is possible that boys who mingle with girls, perceived as being more in touch with their emotions, in turn are better and more comfortable with expressing their own emotions. Thus, my hypothesis is that there is a difference in the emotional expressiveness of males who are exposed to homogenous sex settings and those exposed to heterogeneous sex settings. The homogenous sex setting is an all boys’ school; the heterogeneous sex setting is a coeducational school. The males are 10th standard students. By comparing the two groups it can then be determined whether there is a difference between them, and therefore whether gender ratio plays a role in emotional expressivity.

Methodology

Participants

The questionnaire was given to 60 tenth standard boys, 30 of whom were from single sex schools and 30 of whom were from co-educational schools. Their ages ranged from 14 to 16. The boys were chosen randomly from their classrooms, and undertook the test with informed consent. They were asked to provide their age and religion. The schools were all English medium, middle to upper class private schools, and the students were either Hindu or Muslim.

Apparatus

The study was conducted using the Scale of Emotional Competence (Sharma & Bharadwaj, 1995), published by Mapan. The scale consists of 30 questions which aim to measure five different emotional competencies: adequate depth of feeling, ability to function with emotions, ability to cope with problem emotions, encouragement of positive emotions, and lastly, the adequate expression and control of emotions by the participant, which this study is concerned with. Emotional competence is a blend of these five competencies, however the scale allows for a separate study of each by dividing the questionnaire into five subgroups, each of which consists of questions that concern only one of the competencies. This standardized questionnaire employs the Likert model of a multiple choice five-point scale.

Design

The independent group design under the experimental design was used, using two distinct groups. The emotional expressivity of boys in coeducational schools and single sex schools was tested as being influenced by the presence or absence of girls. In the coeducational schools where the test was administered, the boy-girl ration was on average 1:1, while in the single sex schools there were no girls present at all.

Procedure

Each student was to select out of the five choices given for each question the one that best applied to him. The scores for those questions related to the relevant emotional competency were added for each participant. Using these raw scores, various statistics were calculated for each group, including the mean, the standard deviation, and standard error, which were then compared and thus revealed the significance of difference between the means of the coeducational school students and the single sex school students. A non-parametric test, the Mann-Whitney U test, was applied to the raw scores as well.

Results

The boys in coeducational schools (M = 19.8) scored higher than the boys in single sex schools (M = 17.9). The standard deviation for each group was 3.54 and 2.77 respectively. The difference between the means was tested using standard error (0.83) which when converted into z scores (2.28) was found to be significant at 5% level but not at 1% level.

The Mann-Whitney U test showed that there is significant variance between the two groups (U = 4.35) at both 5% and 1% level of significance.

Table 1 showing the mean score for emotional expressiveness and standard deviation of the two groups

Sex Setting

Mean Score

SD

Homogeneous(Single-sex School)

17.9

2.77

Heterogeneous (Coeducational School)

19.8

3.54

SE = 0.83

z score = 2.28

Variance = 4.35

Discussion

This study aimed to prove that there is a difference in the emotional expressiveness of males who are exposed to homogenous sex settings and those exposed to heterogeneous sex settings. Males studying in coeducational schools, a heterogeneous sex setting, were hypothesized to have higher scores for emotional expression and control than their single-sex school counterparts, that is, those in a homogeneous sex setting; the higher scores indicating higher adequacy in emotional expressiveness. The results showed that the boys in coeducational schools scored higher than the boys in single sex schools, and the difference in these scores were found to be significant through the appropriate statistical methods. The hypothesis was thus proved by the study.

Emotional expression, which includes adequate expression and control of emotions, is important because inadequacy in either of these may lead to “uncontrolled or disorganized emotionality” (Sharma & Bharadwaj, 1995). Emotional competence requires a healthy level of emotional expressiveness and control – that is, accepting ones emotions as a part of oneself while not allowing them to dictate ones behaviour and choices. Previous research has shown that women are more adequately expressive of their emotions (Diener, Sandvick & Larsen, 1985) while reluctance to express emotions is generally associated with males (Levant, 1995). In line with this, adolescent females have a significantly higher level of emotional expressiveness than do adolescent males (Bronstein, Briones, Brooks & Cowan, 1996). As adolescents are influenced by their surrounding peer group (Ennet & Bauman, 1994), perhaps the reason for the boys in coeducational schools having higher scores for emotional expressiveness is because of the presence of girls. The boy-girl ratio in these schools was approximately 1:1. Following studies could introduce a third or fourth gender ratio setting, with a 3:1 or 2:1 boy-girl proportion. If the hypothesis holds true, the boys in these settings will score less than those in 1:1 settings, but more than boys in single-sex schools.

In 1989, Blier and Blier found that both males and females were more expressive towards female friends than male friends (as cited in Brody, 1997). It may be that both sexes believe men to be more judgmental and women more empathetic, thus they feel more comfortable expressing their emotions to women. This too many indicate reason for the higher scores of the boys in coeducational settings – the boys in the single sex schools may fear the reactions of their peers if they overtly express themselves, especially emotions that are not considered ‘manly’ such as sadness. Data shows that women interact with other women more than men do. Since women are more expressive, there is a chance that men who interact more with women will be more expressive as well.

Most variables were constant between both sex settings. The schools were all English medium and children were from upper middle class backgrounds. All the boys who took part in the study were in the 10th standard, their age ranging from 14 to 16. It must be noted, however, that the single sex schools primarily had students who were Muslim, and the coeducational schools were primarily comprised of Hindus. It is possible that there is a relationship between religion and emotional expressiveness (Bullard & Park, 1998), and therefore this too might have played a role in the difference in the scores obtained from the two groups. Further studies on emotional expressiveness may eliminate the differences caused by religious backgrounds by creating matched random sample groups, or administer the study within both religious groups separately.

A further study to corroborate the effect each sex has upon the other may administer the same test to girls in coeducational schools and in single sex schools. With the results of this study in mind and the possible explanations, it is likely that the all-girls’ schools’ students will have higher scores for emotional expressiveness than their coeducational counterparts. If men who interact more with women are more expressive of emotions such as affection, then perhaps these women are in turn affected by the men and are more expressive of aggression in a way that is stereotypically male.

Studying in a coeducational school may be beneficial in the long run for males who conform to the “restrictive emotionality” stereotype. Babcock, Waltz, Jacobson & Gottmann found that there is a negative correlation between how well males express their emotions and how physically abusive they are towards their wives (as cited in Brody, 1997). Suppressing feelings adversely affects both mental and physical health (Pennebaker, 1982). Men conforming to the stereotype are also at a higher risk for heart disesase, according to theorists Siegman, Anderson and Berger (as cited in Brody, 1997). Studies show that when in heterogeneous sex settings, people adjust their behaviour to match the norms of the other sex, and gender differences become more apparent in single sex settings (Hall, 1984). Thus, boys in a coeducational school may be affected by the presence of girls in terms of several traits and behaviours, including emotional expressiveness, while boys in a single sex school may be more likely to conform to the stereotype in this respect.

Emotional expressiveness is thus affected by a number of variables. The differences between the two sexes are vast, and this area is no exception. The explanations put forward for the existing differences between males and females in the expression of emotion are diverse. This study has focused on sex ratios as a causal factor, and has gone into how and why the level of exposure and interaction between males and females affects emotional expressivity. The benefits of having an adequate level of emotional expression and control have been highlighted. Males are more expressive of their emotions when they are with females. Keeping this in mind, perhaps it is possible to decrease the disparities between not only the actual expressiveness of men and women, but the stereotypes associated with each as well.

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