University Researchers Find Gender Differences in Response to Exposure to Violence

Stephanie Milan (standing) and Kate Zona

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have found that young women exposed to violence are effected negatively to a greater extent than is the case for young males. The researchers examined data on more than 6,000 adolescents in inner-city Chicago. The subjects were interviewed three times over the course of four years. Many of these teenagers were exposed to violence by seeing it, hearing about it, or being victims.

The results showed that young women who had been exposed to violence were more apt to display symptoms of dissociation, mentally and emotionally withdrawing from difficult situations. “It’s a coping strategy associated with trauma,” according to Stephanie Milan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, a coauthor of the study. “When things are too overwhelming, girls will go somewhere else in their head to escape.”

On the otherhand, “Boys are more likely to have a hyper-arousal response to violence,” says Kate Zona, a Ph.D. student at UConn and the lead author of the study. “They’re ready to fight. Girls, instead, can be more likely to become numb or frozen.”

The study found that when this dissociation among young women becomes chronic, it can lead to personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and even an increased risk of suicide.

The research was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. The authors are currently at work on a different study of stress caused by exposure to violence among young girls and mothers in New Britain, Connecticut.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study


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