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Essay on Gender Differences in Experiencing Embarrassment and Related Emotions

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There is a plethora of evidence contributing to the emotional expression in individuals and whether or not, it varies according to gender. Chaplin and Aldao (2013) found that positive emotion expressions and internalizing negative emotion expressions are more evident in girls whereas externalizing negative emotions are expressed more by boys. However, Ferguson and Eyre (2000) reported contradictory findings on gender differences based on previous evidence. For instance, they found that female preschoolers exhibit more overt aggression and self-distress, as components of guilt whereas Chaplin and Aldao (2013) reported boys express more externalizing emotions such as anger or aggression as compared to girls. Similarly, where some studies state that gender differences exist in the experiences of emotion, certain others claim that no differences can be observed till infancy (Davis, 1995). Hence in light of these opposing findings, it can be concluded that even for the same emotion, some studies report that no gender differences exist while others find them to be more prevailing in males as compared to females and vice versa.

These contradictions can be attributed to a number of extraneous, confounding, mediating, and/or moderating variables that either went unnoticed or remained uncontrolled. Certain factors influencing experiences of negative emotions on the basis of gender have been derived from previous studies and compiled below.

Gender Roles

From the time a child is born, he/she is expected to act in a certain way by the parents and members of society. These expectations can be culture-specific but can give rise to gender roles which are norms of conduct that have to be followed by individuals of a specific gender. Instead of one gender over the other, individuals with a feminine gender role reported more guilt-proneness and shame-proneness than did the masculine and undifferentiated gender role groups (Benetti-McQuoid & Bursik, 2005). Gender in itself is a social construct, emerging out of the social roles or the need for personal identity in an individual. As insensitivity is viewed as non-normative for females, they tend to develop feelings of guilt over inconsiderate behavior whereas since males perceive aggression to be normative for them, they are less likely to show guilt over aggressive behaviors, as compared to females. (Bybe, 1998). This indicates the importance of how individuals view themselves and how they are viewed by others, as an integral component in determining the manifestation of emotional experiences.

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Stereotypical Behaviors

There are certain actions that seem to be accepted by one gender but not by the other. Ferguson and Eyre (2000) emphasize the role of socialization agents to promote feelings of negative emotions of guilt and shame, more in females than males. Women are encouraged to be loving toward others, connected to them, and interpersonally sensitive (Zahn-Waxler et al., 1991). On the other hand, males are stereotyped to be achievement-oriented, active, aggressive, autonomous, competitive, dominant, and stronger than females. This effectively provides a few reasons for males to be ashamed of possessing unwanted identities. Plant, Hyde, Keltner, and Devine (2000) reported that women are stereotyped as experiencing more guilt, shame, and embarrassment, whereas men are stereotyped as experiencing more pride (as cited in Else-Quest, Higgins, Allison & Morton, 2012). The complex interaction individuals have with the members of their society, is likely to affect their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Therefore, depending on what stereotypes are being followed in a given sociocultural context, emotional experiences may or may not give way to gender differences.


Gender differences have been studied widely in different age groups of individuals. Certain meta-analytic studies provide evidence of how these differences increase with age. Chaplin and Aldao (2013) found that during infancy, gender differences were almost negligible but became more significant with age, such as in the period of adolescence. On the contrary, Else-Quest et. al. (2012) that gender differences in experiencing guilt increase from adolescence through adulthood but found no significant gender differences in the experience of embarrassment. One possible explanation for this result can be the gender roles and stereotypical behaviors mentioned above. As infants are unable to understand the complex expectations held by their parents and lack awareness about stereotypical behaviors around them, they are less likely to modify their behavior along those lines. However, with age, the child begins to realize gender-specific roles and stereotypes which leads to the occurrence of gender differences. Another possible explanation is the change in hormonal levels during puberty which may trigger changes in emotion-related neural circuitry, differently for boys and girls, further contributing to gender differences in emotion expression (De Bellis et al., 2001).


Studies have also been conducted to examine whether there is a difference in the way males and females report emotional experiences by themselves. Most of the findings conceptualize that females report these experiences more than males. It was found that more guilt is experienced in females, with the onset of adolescence. As cited in Bybee (1998), in a study conducted by Buss and Brock (1963), female college students reported more guilt, when asked to administer electric shocks, as compared to their male counterparts. Stilwell and Galvin (1985) also mentioned that girls reported feeling more discomfort and physiological disturbance in response to transgressions. In an empirical study conducted by Pulham (2009), the results indicated that females are more likely to experience embarrassment and humiliation than males. A possible reason for these unidirectional findings may again be attributed to how females are expected to be more emotionally expressive than males. Parkins (2012) reported women to indeed be the more emotionally expressive of the genders. There also exist neural explanations to support that females experience more emotions than males. In a study that required participants to use reappraisal to down-regulate their emotional responses to negatively valenced pictures, the findings suggested that neural differences were evident between different genders, even when behavioral were not. Men showed lesser increases in prefrontal regions, associated with reappraisal, greater decreases in the amygdala, associated with emotional responding, and lesser engagement of ventral striatal regions, associated with reward processing (McRae, Ochsner, Mauss, Gabrieli & Gross, 2008). These findings and explanations can be used to conclude that females in general, have both an inherent tendency and societal freedom to experience and report negative emotions, more than males.

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