Everybody’s heard of ‘fight/flight’ (and sometimes ‘freeze’). And before I go any further let’s take a quick moment to acknowledge that these things would make an awesome superhero trio if Marvel or DC got on board with some costume design and screenplay.
But that’s not what this post is about. Today’s story starts with a Harvard researcher, Dr Shelley Taylor, who once noticed that most early scientific investigations into biological stress-responses were done on more than 80% male animal samples.
So Dr Taylor did her own study on some female animals and found that females tend toward an additional stress response which she called “tend and befriend” (this has been verified by many later studies). Basically:
In chemical terms:
an increase in stress leads brain to increase production of social-bonding-hormone oxytocin
but for some reason, in males, the calming effects of oxytocin are blocked by aggressive testosterone.
whereas in females, it increases the drive to socially connect
Biologists have made some guesses about why the sexes might have evolved this way, theorising that fighting and flighting isn’t always very practical for a young mom looking after a bunch of babies. Whereas a bunch of moms working together as a defensive team can be quite formidable (that’s why you never mess with the PTA).
But whatever the evolutionary reason, this whole thing super-interesting (to me). Because:
Like many other animal species, as well as our early homo sapien predecessors, we still experience stress on the daily.
But, unlike our outdoor-living ancestors, lots of modern human stress nowadays comes from things that aren’t going to kill us or threaten our physical survival in any way (although, as pointed out by a reader - lots of people still obviously also face very real survival threats).
The ‘threats’ that we perceive as being so serious are mostly just things in our heads - threats to our egos, our values, our social/economic status, our culture, the wellbeing (but not survival) of our family etc.
Still with me? Up until relatively recently, women were perceived to have no place in ‘high-stress environments’ like the worlds of business and politics, partly because of the supposed female inability to handle stress with sufficient emotional distance.
But in the face of these modern threats, as opposed to threats in the wild, I wonder which sex-based biological (hormonal) response-types are actually the most practical for promoting the wellbeing of our species? Let’s see…
Obviously there are a zillion more factors that come into these kinds of things - but I just couldn’t help finding it a bit funny that women have been perceived as biologically less cut out for leadership roles when, if it just comes down to biology, this relatively little-known research suggests women might be the best candidates for collaborative leadership in the modern world.
Anyway. writing this post for public consumption has been a bit stressful so I’m off to tend to and befriend some vulnerable beers (Tonight, obviously. Not at 9am on a Monday).
Ok thanks bye see you next week!