STKE: Women See Friends, Men See Foes

Science  02 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5778, pp. 1281c
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5778.1281c

Gender differences in social behavior are well known. Thompson et al. now show that arginine vasopressin (AVP), which is known to influence the behavior of other mammals, influences social behaviors in humans in a gender-specific manner. AVP or saline was administered intranasally, and various responses to faces of the same sex with happy, neutral, or angry expressions were recorded. Differences in the activity of a muscle in the brow, the contraction of which is associated with anger or threat, were increased in men exposed to AVP and then shown neutral faces, whereas women exposed to AVP showed a decrease in the activity of this muscle in response to happy or angry faces. Although AVP-treated individuals of both sexes exhibited increased anxiety, men reported a decrease in the perceived friendliness or approachability of people with happy expressions, whereas women reported an increase in the approachability or friendliness of people with neutral expressions. The results may provide a molecular mechanism for the evolution of gender-specific responses to stress. — NG

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103, 7889 (2006).

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