There’s a broad assumption in our culture that women are just more emotionally intelligent than men. But women’s superior emotional intelligence is anything but a settled fact, in spite of claims of women everywhere to the contrary. Even if women do show more emotional awareness than men, a new study points toward environmental, rather than genetic, influences. According to that research, which was published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, mothers may teach girls more about emotions than they teach boys.
Do Boys Learn Less About Emotions Than Girls?
To evaluate differences in the ways parents talk to their children, researchers evaluated 65 Spanish parents of 4- and 6-year-old children. The parents told stories with their children and talked about previous experiences. Girls were more adept at using emotional words—such as happy, sad, and confused—than were boys. Researchers also found that mothers used more expressive words with their daughters than their sons, which might help explain why differences in emotional awareness emerge so early.
Undermining Boys’ Emotional Behavior
This isn’t the first study that has found that parents teach boys to be less emotionally astute than girls. In another study, a baby’s gender was concealed while he or she watched a jack-in-the-box. Observers were then asked to characterize the baby’s emotional reactions. When they thought the baby was a boy, they were more likely to call the reaction angry or aggressive, and girls were more likely to be labeled as fearful, potentially stigmatizing fear for boys.
Some parents may even punish their boys for expressing their emotions, and boys receive intense peer pressure to conform to a masculine social norm that demands disconnection from emotions. The British Journal of Developmental Psychology is just one more piece of research suggesting the ability to feel and express emotions must be taught.
- Kindlon, D. (n.d.). Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys [PDF]. City Leadership Research Project.
- Mothers nurture emotions in girls over boys, new study finds. (2014, November 12). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-11/uos-mne110914.php
- Widen, S. C., & Russell, J. A. (2002). Gender and Preschoolers’ Perception of Emotion. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 48(3), 248-262. doi: 10.1353/mpq.2002.0013
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