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The majority of psychological research is conducted using the nomothetic approach, which focuses on large group differences or fundamental human characteristics, as opposed to the idiographic approach, which focuses on the ways in which individuals differ. The nomothetic approach is generally the best approach scientifically, individual differences are often large and ignored in the study of psychology. This apparent blind spot is particularly apparent in the study of human emotion, specifically studies investigating emotional gender differences. When researchers do not consider individual differences in research this can lead to their research having incomplete conclusions. If the individual differences found are much larger than the difference between the investigated groups (e.g. men and women) then it is dangerous to assume that there is a difference between people between these groups, especially as the research might be used to influence real-world situations (education).
Many studies investigated the role of the amygdala in emotion and concluded that the amygdala is mainly involved in anticipatory emotions. These studies also concluded that the amygdala was only involved in the intensity of the presented stimuli not the valence of the stimuli (e.g. Domes et al 2007). Cunningham & Brosch (2012) pointed out that there was a large amount of individual differences between the amygdala responses of the participants to any presented stimulus. The presented results of the studies was merely an average of many different responses with many conflicting responses. This means that the amygdala response of the participants to the given stimuli must be related to the personal nature of the stimuli to the individual participants. The large individual differences found in amygdala research demonstrates that the role of the amygdala is probably far more complicated than the researchers initially concluded when just investigating the average amygdala response of their participants.
There have been a relatively disproportionate number of studies which have investigated emotional differences between men and women. Fischer et al (2004) found that across different cultures generally men experience more powerful emotions, these were emotions which meant that the person is more likely to approach a given stimulus (e.g. anger or happiness. The researchers found that women were more likely to experience powerless emotions, emotions which made the person less likely to approach a given stimulus (e.g. sadness or fear). Under a more detailed analysis of the data the researchers found large individual differences within their study, the differences between individual people was much larger than the differences between men and women generally. This lead the researchers to investigate a number of possible confounding variables which could help explain the gender differences better. Each country investigated in the study was measured using the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) and an interaction was found between gender differences in the power of emotions found and the GEM measured in the presented country. This study shows the importance of considering individual differences in emotional gender research, as even though the study found a consistent gender difference across most countries more detailed investigation suggested that cultural effects may be the cause of the gender differences. These differences were also far from universal across all people.
Emotion based research into gender research does have some limited uses, these are normally overstated by the researchers in their discussion sections. The best use of this research is that it provides confirming or contradictory evidence regarding evolutionary models, e.g if a large gender difference is found for emotional intelligence then this suggests that this may be a sexually selected trait or have a gender-specific social or survival advantage. Miller (2000) argued that the most interesting phenomenon regarding gender differences is that there is almost no gender differences between most psychological traits, e.g intelligence. This is useful as it discredits many models of evolution which could be used to explain humans’ large and costly brain.
Other than investigating evolutionary models and some general interest studying emotional gender differences has a very limited benefit. Brackett, Mayer & Warner (2004) found that women had significantly higher emotional intelligence compared to a similar sample of men, the researchers also showed that a lower emotional intelligence was correlated with a variety of negative behaviours (including alcohol use, deviant behaviours and poor relations with friends. In their discussion section the researchers made the assumption that the study had important educational and social implications, this assumption means that due to this general gender difference in emotional intelligence men and women should be treated differently in educational and social settings in order to challenge this general difference. This assumption is fundamentally wrong because of the large amount of crossover between the two genders, a randomly selected man still has quite a good chance of having a higher level of emotional intelligence than a randomly selected. In order to be fair to these relatively anomalous people it is necessary to ignore gender differences and treat each person based on their own individual traits.
In conclusion individual differences should be assessed by researchers in order to revel the true implications of their research. This is especially applicable when discussing emotional gender differences, individuals should not define individuals by their gender and should treat them based on their own individual merit.
Brackett, M., A., Mayer, J., D. & Warner, R., M. (2004). Emotional Intelligence and It’s Relation To Everyday Behaviour. Personality and Individual Differences, 36(6), 1387-1402. Doi: 10.1016/SO191-8869(03)00236-8
Cunningham, W., A. & Brosch, T. (2012). Motivational Salience: Amygdala Tuning From Traits, Needs, Values and Goals. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1), 54-59, Doi: 10.1177/0963721411430832.
Domes, G., Heinrichs, M., Glascher, J., Buchel, C., Braus, D., F. & Herpertz, S., C. (2007). Oxytocin Attenuates Amygdala Response to Emotional Faces Regardless of Valence, Biological Psychiatry, 62(10), 1187-1190, Doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.03.025
Fischer, A., H., Mosquera, P., M., Vianen, V., Annelies, E., M. & Manstead, A., S. (2004). Gender and Culture Differences in Emotion. Emotion, 4(1), 87-94. Doi: 10.1037/1528-35126.96.36.199.
Miller, G. (2000). The Mating Mind. Great Britain: London. Vintage Press.