Differences between men and women? Look at the news they choose
and World Science staff
Men and women may pick different types of news articles to read when they’re angry, a study suggests: under certain conditions, the men choose articles that fuel their anger, while women choose calming stories.
The difference came through when people were angry and were expecting a chance to retaliate against the source of their frustration, according to the researchers.
Men apparently read negative stories as a way to sustain their anger until their chance to get even, the scientists said, but women chose more positive news to help reduce their anger before a possible confrontation.
“For women, it is not seen as appropriate for them to retaliate when they’re angry, but it is OK for men. And that’s reflected in their selection of media content,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
“This shows that even our news consumption is not motivated just by information concerns. We use news to regulate our moods.”
Knobloch-Westerwick conducted the study with Scott Alter of the University of Michigan. The findings appeared recently in the journal Human Communication Research.
The study involved 86 college students, who were falsely told that they were participating in two separate experiments.
In what they were told was the first experiment, they sat at a computer and given an impossible task: to assess photos of people with neutral facial expressions. They were asked to choose which of six moods each face represented. They were shown 20 faces, each for two seconds.
Unbeknownst to them, their answers were irrelevant. After they were done, the supervisor of the experiment gave each participant one of two possible evaluations, which had no relation to their actual performance. One evaluation was designed to provoke slight anger, the other to elicit much greater anger.
In the low-anger evaluation, participants were told they had gotten 45 percent of the answers wrong, and had “fairly weak” social skills. In the nastier assessment, they were told they had gotten 85 percent wrong, representing “unusable” social skills.
In one more twist, half the people were told before they began the experiment that they would have the opportunity to evaluate the supervisor, and recommend whether the person should keep his job. This was the opportunity some participants had for retaliation against the person who irked them.
Next, participants were told it was time for the second study, in which they evaluated an experimental online magazine. They saw a contents screen that showed 12 stories, all from real magazines. Half were pre-selected as positive stories, half as negative. The students were told they wouldn’t have time to read them all, and to choose those that most interested them.
Software logged the time participants spent reading each article.
Finally, those who were promised the opportunity to evaluate the supervisor were given the chance.
Men given the chance to retaliate against the supervisor were more likely to choose negative over positive news, while women chose the positive news, the researchers found. For participants not given the chance to retaliate, differences between men and women’s article choices were smaller, and the men were found much more likely to read positive news than those with the opportunity to retaliate.
It seems the retaliation group members had opted to “manage” their mood in preparation for their revenge, Knobloch-Westerwick said, with men using the news to sustain their anger, and women apparently seeking to dissipate it.
However, the results showed no difference in those provoked to low anger versus high anger, she said.
The findings suggest people may sometimes use their media choices to put them in the right frame of mind for upcoming events, she added. For instance, commuters facing a stressful drive home from work may choose calming, relaxing music on the radio.
“You want to make sure your mood fits whatever situation you’re in,” Knobloch-Westerwick said. “Our media use is not just for entertainment or information. It can also be functional.”
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