Women Remember Bad News More than Men: Byproduct of Evolution?


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Cortisol is produced during times of stress. Image by jynto

Cortisol: Stress Hormone

Measures of cortisol were taken from the participants’ saliva both before and after the expose to the newspaper articles.

Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands and is associated with stress.  Cortisol activates the “fight or flight” response which helps bring glucose into the bloodstream to prepare for the emergent situation.

This is good in the short term.  But in the long-term, the Mayo Clinic warns,  too much stress can contribute to heart disease, sleep and digestive problems, obesity and depression.

Reading bad news raised cortisol levels in women – according to the study, “women exposed to negative news had significantly higher cortisol levels than the women exposed to neutral news.”

Bad News & Stress: Findings and Implications

The day after being exposed to negative and neutral news, participants were asked to recall the news stories.  Women recalled more of the negative news stories than did men. Additionally, women reacted by secreting more cortisol upon recall. The researchers summarized their findings noting, “we showed that exposure to real negative news significantly increases physiological reactivity to a subsequent stressor, an effect that is specific to women who have been previously exposed to negative news. Finally, we showed that women who are exposed to stress after reading negative news have greater remembrance for these news.”

In nature, being more reactive to stress may prove advantageous.  In the study, Drs. Marin et. al write, “women’s stress system is wired-up to ensure not only their own survival but the one of their offspring as well. This requires a certain degree of empathy…Given that the majority of the news excerpts involve the capacity to detect threats that are directed to other people and not to the self, it is thus possible that the task had a stronger effect on the physiological stress system of women. Along the same line, this evolutionary-based mechanism could also promote women’s memory for the negative news…in order to ensure the protection of their offspring, it is primordial for women to remember the potential threats surrounding their environment.”

Dr. Marin told Decoded Science, “[w]e are constantly bombarded with news and  instinctively, we see this as an inoffensive process. However, this study clearly shows that the brain is constantly working for our survival and responds to these news that are perceived as being threatening.”  While this response may have been useful initially, allowing women to remain wary for the sake of their children, today it may simply leave women wary, and worried.


Marin, Marie-France, et. al. There Is No News Like Bad News: Women Are More Remembering and Stress Reactive after Reading Real Negative News than Men. (2012). PLOS ONE, Vol. 7, Issue 10. Accessed October 10, 2012.

Mayo Clinic. Constant Stress Puts Your Health at Risk. (2012). Accessed October 10, 2012.

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