Displacement Behaviors Can Lower Stress in Men

A new study reveals that displacement behaviors, which are behaviors that are not direct results of stress, but rather behaviors used as coping methods for stress, can actually decrease the negative effects of stress for men. Displacement behaviors include actions like randomly touching the face, biting the lip, or even scratching oneself during a stressful experience. Some studies have begun to explore how this type of coping strategy, if it actually is a coping strategy, impacts stress levels during and after a stressful event.

To better understand the effects of displacement behavior and to determine whether there is a different effect for men than for women, Changiz Mohiyeddini of the Department of Psychology at the University of Roehampton in London recently led a study that measured cognitive and physiological responses on a sample of 82 adult men and women during and after a stressful event.

The results revealed that the men were nearly twice as likely to engage in displacement behaviors as the women. This could be because of the positive effects they received. In particular, men had better cognitive performance during the stressful events and had significantly lower levels of self-reported stress afterward, when compared to the women. They even had lower heart rates, which might indicate a protective mechanism, as high stress-induced heart rate can increase blood pressure and put individuals at risk for physical illness such as heart disease.

The women who did engage in displacement behaviors did not benefit in the same way. In fact, the women who used behaviors such as scratching or lip biting during the stressor had decreases in cognitive performance. Because stress can lead to many negative outcomes, including anxiety, depression, and physical illness, it is imperative that every nuance affecting stress should be explored. Mohiyeddini added, “These results point to an important sex difference in coping strategies, and highlight new avenues for research into sex biases in stress-related disorders.”

Mohiyeddini, C., Bauer, S., Semple, S. (2013). Displacement behaviour is associated with reduced stress levels among men but not women. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56355. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056355

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  • PAUL T

    PAUL T

    May 8th, 2013 at 9:39 PM

    I didn’t know this was a stress response!But yes I have done all of these things many a times.That it helps stress and helps to cope is a great thing.But it surprises me to know that the effects are different in men and women.Is it that women get more self conscious when they are doing these things that help them cope?I guess that would be the reason for the negative effect in women.

  • harry paul

    harry paul

    May 9th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    For someone who is already stressed, could this also turn into something negative? Like those people who pull their own hair out? Fine line I guess between using it for coping and it too then becoming an issue.

  • Cole


    May 9th, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    I guess that this could be viewed as just a way to comfort yourself, to kind of take your mind off of something that is causing you a lot of tension or stress and give you a way to kind of take your mind off of that.

  • joanna hamilton

    joanna hamilton

    May 11th, 2013 at 4:16 AM

    Has anyone looked at how these kinds of behaviors could impact a woman dealing with stress as well? It seems that if this could work for a man then maybe women could benefit too?

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