Scientists have known that on the whole, females of all ages
tend to worry more and have more intense worries than males.
Women also tend to perceive more risk in situations and grow
more anxious than men.
Now we know why.
Women are more likely than men to believe that past experiences
accurately forecast the future, according to two new studies.
The research, involving both 3- to 6-year-olds and adults
of both genders, tested the extent to which participants'
thought that worry can be caused by thinking that a bad event
that happened in the past could happen again in the future.
(This skill, in its simplest form, is critical to social understanding
as it is important to making decisions and assessing risk.)
For the first study, subjects listened to six stories that
featured characters harmed by another person or animal in
the story. Many days later, the character felt worried or
changed their behavior when confronted with the same wrongdoer
who had hurt them before. (For example, if one little boy
stole a toy from another, the child might be worried when
he saw that boy again and hide the new toy he was playing
The second study was the same, except that the person or
animal the character ran across later only looked similar
to the one that had harmed them before.
At the end of each story, the participants were asked
to explain why the character was worried or changed their
Females, both children and adults, were more likely to use
uncertainty to explain the character's reaction, that
is, they tended to explain the reaction in terms of events
that might happen versus those that will happen, the researcher
reported. They also tended, more than males, to predict that
the characters who encountered the new character who looked
similar to the wrongdoer would feel worried because they thought
the new character would also do them harm.
The studies, detailed in the Sept./Oct. issue of the journal
Child Development, also found that children increasingly made
these kinds of past-to-future connections as they got older,
which yields insight into their cognitive development.
"These results are significant because they reveal that
knowledge about the impact of past-to-future thinking on emotions
and behaviors develops during the preschool years," said
study author Kristin Lagattuta of the University
of California, Davis.