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"Bad news" more likely to stress women than men

A new study reveals that women are more likely to be stressed by negative news reports than their male counterparts.

"It's difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there," lead author Marie-France Marin, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, said in a press release. "And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case."

Sixty participants were divided into four groups and were asked to read either neutral stories (for example, about the opening of a new park or a film premiere) or negative stories revolving around accidents and murders.

Stress was determined through saliva tests that showed levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. The participants were also asked to perform memory and intellectual activities to see how they functioned in stressful situations. Subjects were gave saliva samples before and after they read the stories and after the stressful activities. The more cortisol found in the sample, the more stressed the person was.

The day after the experiments, the subjects were called in and asked about what they had read.

While reading the stories alone did not increase stress levels, the researchers found that women who read negative news had higher stress levels after memory and intellect experiments compared to the women who read the neutral news.

"Moreover, the women were able to remember more of the details of the negative stories," Marin said. "It is interesting to note that we did not observe this phenomenon amongst the male participants."

The differences in stress reactions could be evolutionary. The researchers believe that because women place a higher emphasis on the survival of their offspring, it could make them more stressed when they hear bad news -- in turn making them more empathetic.

Dr. Terrie Moffitt, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, added to the BBC that a more interesting factor was how women may have more stress-filled lives and still live longer than men.

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

The study was published in PLoS One on Oct. 10.