“You worry too much” is a phrase more often heard by women than by men, evidencing the common belief that women are the chief worriers.
In survey taken regarding the frequency of worry, women score higher than men, says Holly Hazlett-Stevens, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, who has conducted research on the topic.
In recent years, however, scientists using new imaging techniques have been able to compare brain activity by gender. Their findings show not that women worry more but that they think – and likely worry – differently than men do.
Women’s brains show more communication between the hemispheres than men’s brains, says Dr. Vesna Pirec, a psychiatrist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
In men’s brains, the left hemisphere – often considered the analytical part of the brain – is more active, she says.
“With both hemispheres activated in women, there are many more different types of emotional reactions,” she says. “And women, in times of stress, also tend to remember many more details than men would.”
The differences can be attributed to gender roles over the centuries as well as brain evolution, Pirec states. Women juggle raising children, cooking and taking care of the family, she says.
“Men in those times had mostly one task: to go hunting and provide food,” Pirec adds. “So their brains developed differently.”
As well, women may express their worries in a different manner than men do.
“Women have a greater tendency to brood, with a lot of… (emotion) engaged in it,” says Dr. Joan Lang, chairwoman of the department of psychiatry at St. Louis University School of Medicine.
“Men have a tendency to be a little bit more obsessive, concentrating on ‘What should I do?’ rather than ‘What am I feeling?’”
Hazlett-Stevens says, “We also know that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder that is associated with chronic and problematic worry.”