Clamming up during an argument may be a guy thing after all and could be tied to a dip in activity in the empathy regions of the brain, a new study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Texas found that men under stress who were shown pictures of angry faces had reduced activity in the parts of the brain that handle understanding other people's feelings.
The brains of women, on the other hand, had the opposite response: heightened activity in the brain regions responsible for empathy and processing other people's facial expressions.
"Experiencing acute stress can affect subsequent activity and interactions in brain regions in opposite ways for males and females," lead author Mara Mather, director of the Emotion and Cognition Lab at USC, said in a statement. "Under stress, men tend to withdraw socially while women seek emotional support."
AOL's mental health expert Dr. Daniel Carlat cautioned against making too much of the findings.
"I tend to be extremely skeptical of these functional imaging studies," he told AOL Health. "We have only the vaguest idea of what it actually means when specific brain regions light up, and the research is in its infancy. So I generally ignore these kinds of studies."
In the article, to be published October 6 in the journal NeuroReport, Mather and her colleagues describe several tests suggesting that under extreme stress, men's brains responded much less to certain facial expressions, namely those of fear and anger, than women's brains did.
Both males and females showed activity in the fusiform face area of the brain, which processes basic visual stimuli, when looking at images of faces. Men and women also registered a response in the regions used for interpreting facial expressions.