Stressed women "prefer actions to words"

A massage seems to give the right message Keystone

Women react better to stressful situations if they receive a massage from their male partner rather than verbal support, a Zurich University study reveals.

This content was published on June 19, 2007 minutes

The findings fly in the face of the stereotype that women favour talking and men prefer actions, and have been treated warily by relationship counsellors.

A study of 67 women aged between 20 and 37 years of age at Zurich University's Institute of Psychology examined how they reacted to different methods of support before a job interview situation.

One group that only received words of support displayed the same levels of the stress hormone during the interview as those who had no contact with their male partner. Only those who were massaged were less stressed during the test.

"It was a surprise that women did not react at all to the verbal part, but our findings were quite clear there," study co-author Beate Ditzen told swissinfo.

"There have been other studies that show that women did not benefit that much from verbal support from their partners. These have also shown that men do benefit from verbal support from their female partners or a female friend.

"From a psychological point of view these results are very interesting because they enlarge our knowledge about the various cognitive factors of talking intervention. For relationship counselling it could be very interesting."

Geneva-based counselling psychologist Jean Mason-Davids, who offers relationship advice to couples, believes the quality of verbal comforting makes all the difference.

Keeping mouths shut

"Talking and reassuring someone is very different from non-judgmental listening. There is a huge tendency of people falling into the trap of imposing their own opinions and that can be very unhelpful. Just having someone listening to you can be very stress reducing," she told swissinfo.

Mason-Davids was sceptical about how the findings could be used to counsel couples.

"It's hard to generalise, every case is so different, with different nuances. When someone comes out with statements like that it makes me want to see more evidence," she said.

"But massage can be very comforting, people today often lack that physical contact."

Andi Geu, president of Swiss men's group, was also cautious about the suggestion that men should keep their mouths shut if their partners are stressed.

"The results of this study seem to go against the stereotype, but I believe it depends on the individual man and the subject that is stressful," he told swissinfo.

However, he added that the experiences of many men who had tried to talk to their partners bore some resemblance to the research results.

"I have heard of women complaining that they want their partners to talk to them more, but when they did it just did not get any better. They still felt misunderstood even though they got their wish," he said.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

In brief

The Zurich University study measured the effect of three kinds of interaction between couples on the woman's physical and psychological responses to a stressful situation.

Stress levels were measured with a variety of methods, including saliva, heart rate and psychological response tests.

All the women tested had been living with their partner for at least 12 months.

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