Study challenges popular belief that Males Need To “Feel Safe” To Share Feelings

According to a new study by University of Missouri researchers, boys consider it a waste of time to share and discuss problems.

Associate professor of psychological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science, Amanda J. Rose, said: “For years, popular psychologists have insisted that boys and men would like to talk about their problems but are held back by fears of embarrassment or appearing weak. However, when we asked young people how talking about their problems would make them feel, boys did not express angst or distress about discussing problems any more than girls. Instead, boys’ responses suggest that they just don’t see talking about problems to be a particularly useful activity.”

About 2,000 children and adolescents were surveyed and observed by Rose and her colleagues through four different studies. The findings revealed that girls expected positive outcomes such as being cared for, or feeling less lonely after having voiced their problems. Then again, boys also subscribed to negative expectations, such as feeling embarrassed, teased, or not being able to take care of their own problems, just as much as girls did. However, boys mainly believed that voicing their problems would make them feel “weird” as if they were “wasting time.”

Rose said, “An implication is that parents should encourage their children to adopt a middle ground when discussing problems. For boys, it would be helpful to explain that, at least for some problems, some of the time, talking about their problems is not a waste of time. Yet, parents also should realize that they may be ‘barking up the wrong tree’ if they think that making boys feel safer will make them confide. Instead, helping boys see some utility in talking about problems may be more effective. On the other hand, many girls are at risk for excessive problem talk, which is linked with depression and anxiety, so girls should know that talking about problems isn’t the only way to cope.”
Rose is of the opinion that the study results may point towards future romantic relationships that usually follow a “pursuit-withdraw cycle” wherein one partner (mostly a woman) continues addressing the problems while the other (mostly a man) refrains.

Rose added, “Women may really push their partners to share pent-up worries and concerns because they hold expectations that talking makes people feel better. But their partners may just not be interested and expect that other coping mechanisms will make them feel better. Men may be more likely to think talking about problems will make the problems feel bigger, and engaging in different activities will take their minds off the problem. Men may just not be coming from the same place as their partners.”

The National Institute for Mental Health funded study.

The study has been co-authored by current and former MU psychology graduate students Rebecca Schwartz-Mette, Rhiannon Smith, Lance Swenson, Wendy Carlson, and Erika Waller and Rose’s colleague Steven Asher.

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