Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 149–160 | Cite as

Sex differences in emotion recognition ability: The mediating role of trait emotional awareness

  • Ron Wright
  • Robert Riedel
  • Lee Sechrest
  • Richard D. Lane
  • Ryan Smith
Original Paper

Abstract

Although previous research on emotion recognition ability (ERA) has found consistent evidence for a female advantage, the explanation for this sex difference remains incompletely understood. This study compared males and females on four emotion recognition tasks, using a community sample of 379 adults drawn from two regions of the United States (stratified with respect to age, sex, and socioeconomic status). Participants also completed the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale (LEAS), a measure of trait emotional awareness (EA) thought to primarily reflect individual differences in emotion concept learning. We observed that individual differences in LEAS scores mediated the relationship between sex and ERA; in addition, we observed that ERA distributions were noticeably non-normal, and that—similar to findings with other cognitive performance measures—males had more variability in ERA than females. These results further characterize sex differences in ERA and suggest that these differences may be explained by differences in EA—a trait variable linked primarily to early learning.

Keywords

Emotion recognition Emotional awareness Sex differences Perception Non-normal statistical distributions 

Notes

Funding

Supported by BRSG 2S07 RR05675-23 awarded by the Biomedical Research Support Grant Program, Division of Research Resources, National Institutes of Health to R.D.L.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None of the authors have any conflicts of interest to disclose.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

References

  1. Barchard, K., & Hakstian, A. (2004). The nature and measurement of emotional intelligence abilities: Basic dimensions and their relationships with other cognitive ability and personality variables. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 64(3), 437–462. doi: 10.1177/0013164403261762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barrett, L., Lane, R., Sechrest, L., & Schwartz, G. (2000). Sex differences in emotional awareness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(9), 1027–1035. doi: 10.1177/01461672002611001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benjamini, Y., & Hochberg, Y. (1995). Controlling the false discovery rate: A practical and powerful approach to multiple testing. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series B, 57, 289–300.Google Scholar
  4. Berthoz, S., Ouhayoun, B., & Parage, N. (2000). Etude preliminaire des niveaux de conscience emotionnelle chez des patients deprimes et des controles. (Preliminary study of the levels of emotional awareness in depressed patients and controls.). Annals of Medical Psychology (Paris), 158, 665–672.Google Scholar
  5. Bréjard, V., Bonnet, A., & Pedinielli, J. (2012). The role of temperament and emotional awareness in risk taking in adolescents. L’Encéphale: Revue de Psychiatrie Clinique Biologique et Thérapeutique, 38(1), 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burger, A., Lumley, M., Carty, J., Latsch, D., Thakur, E., Hyde-Nolan, M., … Schubiner, H. (2016). The effects of a novel psychological attribution and emotional awareness and expression therapy for chronic musculoskeletal pain: A preliminary, uncontrolled trial. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 81, 1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.12.003.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bydlowski, S., Corcos, M., Jeammet, P., Paterniti, S., Berthoz, S., Laurier, C., … Consoli, S. (2005). Emotion-processing deficits in eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 37, 321–329.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Chaplin, T., Cole, P., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2005). Parental socialization of emotion expression: Gender differences and relations to child adjustment. Emotion (Washington, D. C.), 5(1), 80–88. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.5.1.80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ciarrochi, J., Caputi, P., & Mayer, J. (2003). The distinctiveness and utility of a measure of trait emotional awareness. Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 1477–1490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ciarrochi, J., Hynes, K., & Crittenden, N. (2005). Can men do better if they try harder: Sex and motivational effects on emotional awareness. Cognition & Emotion, 19(1), 133–141. doi: 10.1080/02699930441000102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Collignon, O., Girard, S., Gosselin, F., Saint-Amour, D., Lepore, F., & Lassonde, M. (2010). Women process multisensory emotion expressions more efficiently than men. Neuropsychologia, 48(1), 220–225. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.09.007.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Colvert, E., Rutter, M., Kreppner, J., Beckett, C., Castle, J., Groothues, C., … Sonuga-Barke, E. (2008). Do theory of mind and executive function deficits underlie the adverse outcomes associated with profound early deprivation? Findings from the English and Romanian Adoptees Study. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36(7), 1057–1068. doi: 10.1007/s10802-008-9232-x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Condry, J., & Condry, S. (1976). Sex differences: A study of the eye of the beholder. Child Development, 47, 812–819.Google Scholar
  14. Costa, P., Terracciano, A., & McCrae, R. (2001). Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: Robust and surprising findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(2), 322–331.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Croyle, K. L., & Waltz, J. (2002). Emotional Awareness and Couples’ Relationship Satisfaction. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28(4), 435–444. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2002.tb00368.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Derntl, B., Finkelmeyer, A., Eickhoff, S., Kellermann, T., Falkenberg, D., Schneider, F., & Habel, U. (2010). Multidimensional assessment of empathic abilities: Neural correlates and gender differences. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35(1), 67–82. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.10.006.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Diener, M., & Lucas, R. (2004). Adults desires for childrens emotions across 48 countries: Associations with individual and national characteristics. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35(5), 525–547. doi: 10.1177/0022022104268387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Donges, U., Kersting, A., Dannlowski, U., Lalee-Mentzel, J., Arolt, V., & Suslow, T. (2005). Reduced awareness of others’ emotions in unipolar depressed patients. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 193(5), 331–337.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1975). Unmasking the face: A guide to recognizing emotions from facial clues. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  20. Favreau, O., & Everett, J. (1996). A tale of two tails. American Psychologist, 51(3), 268–269. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.51.3.268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Feingold, A. (1995). The additive effects of differences in central tendency and variability are important in comparisons between groups. American Psychologist, 50(1), 5–13. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.50.1.5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Feingold, A. (1996). Cognitive gender differences: Where are they, and why are they there? Learning and Individual Differences, 8(1), 25–32. doi: 10.1016/S1041-6080(96)90004-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Feldman, R., Greenbaum, C., & Yirmiya, N. (1999). Mother–infant affect synchrony as an antecedent of the emergence of self-control. Developmental Psychology, 35(1), 223–231. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.35.1.223.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Fivush, R., Brotman, M., Buckner, J., & Goodman, S. (2000). Gender differences in parent–child emotion narratives. Sex Roles, 42(3), 233–253. doi: 10.1023/A:1007091207068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Frewen, P., Lane, R., Neufeld, R., Densmore, M., Stevens, T., & Lanius, R. (2008). Neural correlates of levels of emotional awareness during trauma script-imagery in posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(1), 27–31.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Grissom, R. (1994). Probability of the superior outcome of one treatment over another. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(2), 314–316. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.79.2.314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hall, J. (1978). Gender effects in decoding nonverbal cues. Psychological Bulletin, 85(4), 845–857. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.85.4.845.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hedges, L., & Nowell, A. (1995). Sex differences in mental test scores, variability, and numbers of high-scoring individuals. Science, 269(5220), 41–45.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Isaacowitz, D., Löckenhoff, C., Lane, R., Wright, R., Sechrest, L., Riedel, R., & Costa, P. (2007). Age differences in recognition of emotion in lexical stimuli and facial expressions. Psychology and Aging, 22(1), 147–159. doi: 10.1037/0882-7974.22.1.147.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Jenness, A. (1932a). Differences in the recognition of facial expression of emotion. The Journal of General Psychology, 7(1), 192–196. doi: 10.1080/00221309.1932.9918455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jenness, A. (1932b). The effects of coaching subjects in the recognition of facial expressions. The Journal of General Psychology, 7(1), 163–178. doi: 10.1080/00221309.1932.9918451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jenness, A. (1932c). The recognition of facial expressions of emotion. Psychological Bulletin, 29, 324–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jonsson, C.-O., Clinton, D., Fahrman, M., Mazzaglia, G., Novak, S., & Sorhus, K. (2001). How do mothers signal shared feeling-states to their infants? An investigation of affect attunement and imitation during the first year of life. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 42(4), 377–381. doi: 10.1111/1467-9450.00249.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Kohler, C., Turner, T., Gur, R., & Gur, R. (2004). Recognition of facial emotions in neuropsychiatric disorders. CNS Spectrums, 9(4), 267–274.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Kraemer, H., & Kupfer, D. (2006). Size of treatment effects and their importance to clinical research and practice. Biological Psychiatry, 59(11), 990–996. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.09.014.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Kret, M., & De Gelder, B. (2012). A review on sex differences in processing emotional signals. Neuropsychologia, 50(7), 1211–1221. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.12.022.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Lane, R., Quinlan, D., Schwartz, G., Walker, P., & Zeitlin, S. (1990). The levels of emotional awareness scale: A cognitive-developmental measure of emotion. Journal of Personality Assessment, 55(1–2), 124–134. doi: 10.1080/00223891.1990.9674052.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Lane, R., Reiman, E., Axelrod, B., Yun, L., Holmes, A., & Schwartz, G. (1998). Neural correlates of levels of emotional awareness. Evidence of an interaction between emotion and attention in the anterior cingulate cortex. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 10(4), 525–535.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Lane, R., Sechrest, L., Reidel, R., Weldon, V., Kaszniak, A., & Schwartz, G. (1996). Impaired verbal and nonverbal emotion recognition in alexithymia. Psychosomatic Medicine, 58(3), 203–210.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Lane, R., Sechrest, L., & Riedel, R. (1998). Sociodemographic correlates of alexithymia. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 39(6), 377–385. doi: 10.1016/S0010-440X(98)90051-7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Lane, R., Sechrest, L., Riedel, R., Shapiro, D., & Kaszniak, A. (2000). Pervasive emotion recognition deficit common to alexithymia and the repressive coping style. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 492–501.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Lane, R., Weihs, K., Herring, A., Hishaw, A., & Smith, R. (2015). Affective agnosia: Expansion of the alexithymia construct and a new opportunity to integrate and extend Freud’s legacy. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 55, 594–611. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.06.007.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Levant, R. (1998). Desperately seeking language: Understanding, assessing, and treating normative male alexithymia. In G. R. Brooks & G. E. Goods (Eds.), New handbook in psychotherapy and counseling with with men (Vols. 1 & 2, 4th ed., pp. 424–443). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  44. Levine, D., Marziali, E., & Hood, J. (1997). Emotion processing in borderline personality disorders. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 185, 240–246.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Lindquist, K., Gendron, M., Barrett, L., & Dickerson, B. (2014). Emotion perception, but not affect perception, is impaired with semantic memory loss. Emotion (Washington, D. C.), 14(2), 375–387. doi: 10.1037/a0035293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mandal, M., & Palchoudhury, S. (1985). Perceptual skill in decoding facial affect. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 60(1), 96–98. doi: 10.2466/pms.1985.60.1.96.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Matsumoto, D., LeRoux, J., Wilson-Cohn, C., Raroque, J., Kooken, K., Ekman, P., … Goh, A. (2000). A new test to measure emotion recognition ability: Matsumoto and Ekman’s Japanese and Caucasian Brief Affect Recognition Test (JACBART). Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24(3), 179–209. doi: 10.1023/A:1006668120583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. McAndrew, F. (1986). A cross-cultural study of recognition thresholds for facial expressions of emotion. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 17(2), 211–224. doi: 10.1177/0022002186017002005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McCarthy, M., & Arnold, A. (2011). Reframing sexual differentiation of the brain. Nature Neuroscience, 14(6), 677–683. doi: 10.1038/nn.2834.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  50. McClure, E. (2000). A meta-analytic review of sex differences in facial expression processing and their development in infants, children, and adolescents. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 424–453.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Montag, C., Haase, L., Seidel, D., Bayerl, M., Gallinat, J., Herrmann, U., & Dannecker, K. (2014). A pilot RCT of psychodynamic group art therapy for patients in acute psychotic episodes: Feasibility, impact on symptoms and mentalising capacity. PLoS ONE, 9(11), e112348. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112348.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Neumann, D., Malec, J., & Hammond, F. (2017). Reductions in alexithymia and emotion dysregulation after training emotional self-awareness following traumatic brain injury. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000277.Google Scholar
  53. Nowicki, S., & Duke, M. (1992). The association of children’s nonverbal decoding abilities with their popularity, locus of control, and academic achievement. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 153(4), 385–393. doi: 10.1080/00221325.1992.10753734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Nowicki, S., & Duke, M. (1994). Individual differences in the nonverbal communication of affect: The diagnostic analysis of nonverbal accuracy scale. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18(1), 9–35. doi: 10.1007/BF02169077.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Radice-Neumann, D., Zupan, B., Tomita, M., & Willer, B. (2009). Training emotional processing in persons with brain injury. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 24(5), 313–323. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0b013e3181b09160.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Rau, J. (1988). A normative study of the perception of affect task. The University of Arizona.Google Scholar
  57. Rau, J. (1992). Perception of verbal and nonverbal affective stimuli in complex partial seizure disorder. The University of Arizona.Google Scholar
  58. Rotter, N., & Rotter, G. (1988). Sex differences in the encoding and decoding of negative facial emotions. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 12(2), 139–148. doi: 10.1007/BF00986931.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sanefuji, W. (2008). “Like me” detection in infancy: Toward understanding other’s mental states. Psychologia, 51(1), 46–60. doi: 10.2117/psysoc.2008.46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Smith, R., Killgore, W., & Lane, R. (2017a). The structure of emotional experience and its relation to trait emotional awareness: A theoretical review. Emotion (Washington, D. C.) (in press).Google Scholar
  61. Smith, R., Quinlan, D., Schwartz, G., Sanova, A., Alkozei, A., & Lane, R. (2017b). Developmental contributions to emotional awareness. Journal of Personality Assessment (in press).Google Scholar
  62. Sorokowski, P., Sorokowska, A., Butovskaya, M., Stulp, G., Huanca, T., & Fink, B. (2015). Body height preferences and actual dimorphism in stature between partners in two non-western societies (Hadza and Tsimane’). Evolutionary Psychology, 13(2), 455–469. doi: 10.1177/147470491501300209.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Subic-Wrana, C., Bruder, S., Thomas, W., Lane, R., & Köhle, K. (2005). Emotional awareness deficits in inpatients of a psychosomatic ward: A comparison of two different measures of alexithymia. Psychosomatic Medicine, 67(3), 483–489.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Vassallo, S., Cooper, S., & Douglas, J. (2009). Visual scanning in the recognition of facial affect: Is there an observer sex difference? Journal of Vision, 9(3), 11–11. doi: 10.1167/9.3.11.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Winer, B. (1971). Statistical principles in experimental design. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  66. Yagmurlu, B., Berument, S., & Celimli, S. (2005). The role of institution and home contexts in theory of mind development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26(5), 521–537. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2005.06.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ron Wright
    • 1
  • Robert Riedel
    • 2
  • Lee Sechrest
    • 3
  • Richard D. Lane
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ryan Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyLynn UniversityBoca RatonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations