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SALT LAKE CITY — Women are often said to be more emotional than men, and a new study shows why that may be.
In an examination of gender differences drawn from parent-child conversations, The British Journal of Developmental Psychology found that mothers use more emotional words and content while speaking with their daughters than they do with their sons. In return, girls use more emotion during conversation with their fathers than with their mothers.
“Parent–child emotion talk influences children's emotion expression,” study authors Ana Aznar and Harriet R. Tenenbaum wrote. “Through everyday conversations, children develop culture and gender-specific means of expressing emotions.”
A wide variety of research has been done regarding parent-child conversation among English-speakers, thus Aznar and Tenenbaum decided to conduct their experiment with 65 Spanish-speaking mothers and fathers, the study said.
“Central to this study, Spaniards perceive women as more competent than men in emotional intelligence” Aznar and Tenenbaum wrote. “Through investigation of families in diverse communities, we can identify how parents socialize gender-based emotion expression.”
To obtain results, Aznar and Tenenbaum examined parent-child emotion talk during play-related storytime and reminiscent conversations. The two conversations differed in that reminiscence requires one to reflect on one’s own past experience, enabling them to feel more emotion, according to the study.
Aznar and Tenenbaum investigated middle-to upper-class families from Madrid who had 4-year-old sons or daughters and 6-year-old sons or daughters. On the first visit, the researchers videotaped one of the parents conversing with their children, and a week later, the other parent was videotaped.
We are beyond the point in society where boys are taught never to express emotions.
–Harriet R. Tenenbaum
When transcribing the videotapes, Aznar and Tenenbaum noted words like "happy," "sad," "angry," "fear," "surprise" and "excited," and found that mothers and their children used similar words while storytelling and reminiscing, while fathers and children just used similar words while reminiscing.
Anzar and Tenenbaum found that parents modeled stereotypical gender patterns in addition to assuming that girls are more emotional than boys.
“Most parents say they want boys to be more expressive, but don’t know [they] are speaking differently to them,” Tenenbaum told Time. “We are beyond the point in society where boys are taught never to express emotions.”
The results indicated the stereotypical patterns may be the reason girls are considered more socially mature than boys, the study said.
“If girls and boys learn that mothers talk more about emotions than fathers and simultaneously, parents mention emotions more with girls than boys, and preschool girls might learn more about emotions than boys,” Anzar and Tenenbaum wrote in the study. “Children may learn it is more appropriate for females to discuss emotions.”