Not all people experience a nd respond to stress in the same way, and these differences can be important. The cardiologists Meyer Friedman and R. H. Rosenman (1974) 1 were among the first to study the link between stress and heart disease. In their research they noticed that even though the partners in married couples often had similar lifestyles, diet, and exercise patterns, the husbands nevertheless generally had more heart disease than did the wives. As they tried to explain the difference, they focused on the personality characteristics of the partners, finding that the husbands were more likely than the wives to respond to stressors with negative e motions and hostility.
Recent research has shown that the strongest predictor of a physiological stress response from daily hassles is the amount of negative emotion that they evoke. People who experience strong negative e motions as a result of everyday hassles, and who respond to stress with hostility experience more negative health outcomes than do those who react in a less negative way (McIntyre, Korn, & Matsuo, 2008; Suls & Bunde, 2005). 2 Williams and his colleagues (2001) 3 found that people who scored high on measures of anger were three times more likely to suffer from heart attacks in comparison to those who scored lower on anger.
On average, men are more likely than are women to respond to stress by activating the fight-or- flight response, which is an emotional and behavioral reaction to stress that increases the readiness for action. The arousal that men experience when they are stressed leads them to either go on the attack, in an aggressive or revenging way, or else retreat as quickly as they can to safety from the stressor. The fight-or-flight response allows men to control the source of the stress if they think they can do so, or if that is not possible, it allows them to save face by leaving the situation. The fight-or-flight response is triggered in men by the activation of the HPA axis. Women, on the other hand, are less likely to take a fight-or-flight response to stress. Rather, they are more likely to take a tend-and-befriend response(Taylor et al., 2000). 4The tend-and- befriend response is a behavioral reaction to stress that involves activities designed to create social networks that provideprotection from threats. This approach is also self-protective because it allows the individual to talk to others about her concerns, as well as to exchange resources, such as child care. The tend-and-befriend response is triggered in women by the release of the hormone ocytocin, which promotes affiliation. Overall, the tend-and-befriend response is healthier than the flight-or-flight response because it does not produce the elevated levels of arousal related to the HPA, including the negative results that accompany increased levels of cortisol. This may help explain why women, on average, have less heart disease and live longer than men.