Gender-Based Differences During Stress: Flight or Fight, or Tend and Befriend

When a person is under stress, the pulse quickens, the heart pounds and adrenalin courses through the veins, but in stressful situations is our reaction controlled by our genes, and does it differ between the genders?

Australian scientists, writing in BioEssays, believe the SRY gene, which directs male development, may promote aggression and other traditionally male behavioral traits resulting in the fight-or-flight reaction to stress.

“Historically males and females have been under different selection pressures which are reflected by biochemical and behavioral differences between the sexes,” said Joohyung Lee, from the Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne, in a press release from Wiley, which publishes BioEssays. “The aggressive fight-or-flight reaction is more dominant in men, while women predominantly adopt a less aggressive tend-and-befriend response.”

The authors propose that SRY may prime organs in the male body to respond to stress through increased release of catecholamine and blood flow to organs, as well as promoting aggression and increased movement which drive fight-or-flight in males. In females estrogen and the activation of internal opiates, which the body uses to control pain, may prevent aggressive responses.

The role of SRY regulation of catecholamines also suggests the gene may have a role in male-biased disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

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