Sex and Anger

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Science  21 May 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5418, pp. 1263
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5418.1263a

So he's slow to pick up on it when you're peeved? Well, it may just be that old hunter-gatherer brain speaking: You're not as dangerous to him as another man.

Psychology graduate student Lisa Goos of York University in Toronto, Canada, showed 58 female and 56 male college students photographs of male and female faces displaying four negative emotions: anger, fear, disgust, or sadness. Each photo was flashed to viewers for only 30 milliseconds.

Is she mad?CREDIT: GEORGE ROTTER

There was a significant difference between males and females when it came to the perception of an angry expression on a woman, says Goos. Although in most pair-ups subjects correctly identified anger about 40% of the time, males who were exposed to angry female facial expressions recognized them only about 30% of the time.

That's interesting, because “reams of research have shown that most expressions are perceived better when the expresser is a woman,” says Goos, who will present her work at next month's meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society in Salt Lake City. “The reversal of the pattern is predictable by evolutionary theory, which says that information important for survival will be taken in, and used, in very special ways.” A next step, she says, might be to try to identify special brain regions involved in anger recognition. Psychologist Ruben Gur, director of the Brain Behavior Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, says the findings are “consistent with evolutionary theory —because men are physically stronger, it's less important for them to know whether a woman is upset.”

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