Editors' ChoiceBehavior

Men See Foes and Women See Friends

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science's STKE  23 May 2006:
Vol. 2006, Issue 336, pp. tw170
DOI: 10.1126/stke.3362006tw170

Gender differences in social behavior are well known. Thompson et al. now show that arginine vasopressin (AVP), which is known to influence the behavior of other mammals, influences social behaviors in humans in a gender-specific manner. AVP or saline was administered intranasally, and various responses to faces of the same sex with happy, neutral, or angry expressions were recorded. Differences in the activity of a muscle in the brow, the contraction of which is associated with anger or threat, was increased in men exposed to AVP and then shown neutral faces, whereas women exposed to AVP showed a decrease in the activity of this muscle in response to happy or angry faces. Although AVP-treated individuals of both sexes exhibited increased anxiety, men reported a decrease in the perceived friendliness or approachability of people with happy expressions, whereas women reported an increase in the approachability or friendliness of people with neutral expressions. The authors suggest that these results may provide a molecular mechanism for the evolution of gender-specific responses to stress. In men, who evolved to survive a fight-or-flight situation, AVP triggers an increased aggressive response; and in women, AVP triggers an affiliative response because a tend-and-befriend response provided higher chance for survival.

R. R. Thompson, K. George, J. C. Walton, S. P. Orr, J. Benson, Sex-specific influences of vasopressin on human social communication. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103, 7889-7894 (2006). [Abstract] [Full Text]

Stay Connected to Science Signaling