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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