Do women need their friends MORE than men? Female mice feel higher levels of stress when left on their own

  • Female mice released a stress hormone when alone, while males did not
  • The results highlight the importance of a social network for females 
  • Could help create strategies for coping with stress that are sex-specific

After a hard day in the office, a night with your friends can be the ideal way to de-stress.

But it appears that coping mechanisms for feeling overwhelmed may differ between the sexes.

New research has shown that females, but not males, feel stressed when alone – and the discovery could help create strategies for coping with stress that are sex-specific.

It's unknown whether this translates to humans. 

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New research has shown that females, but not males, feel stressed when alone – and could help create strategies for coping with stress that are sex-specific (stock image)

New research has shown that females, but not males, feel stressed when alone – and could help create strategies for coping with stress that are sex-specific (stock image)

TESTING STRESS LEVELS 

The study involved young mice that had been housed in same-sex groups after birth.

The mice were either left in their same-sex groups, housed in pairs, or were isolated altogether from their littermates for 16 to 18 hours.

Following this period, the team examined the effects on the animals' brain cells that control the release of stress hormones.

Laura Senst, lead author of the study, said: 'Isolating the female mice from their littermates for less than a day led to the release of a signalling chemical called corticosterone, which is produced in response to stressful situations and decreases the excitability of the brain cells.

'This reaction was not evident in their male counterparts.'

The results suggest that only young female mice, and not males, interpret social isolation as a type of stress.

The research comes from the University of Calgary where scientists tested the stress levels in male and female mice.

The findings highlight the importance of a social network for females in particular and pave the way for future research into whether females befriend others as a coping mechanism during stressful situations.

Dr Jaideep Bains, senior author of the study, said: 'Many species, including humans, use social interaction to reduce the effects of stress. In fact, the lack of a social network may itself be stressful.

'Recent research suggests that young girls are more sensitive to social stress than boys.

'This could mean that social networks are more important for females in general, and that young females may be more sensitive towards social isolation than males.'

The study involved young mice, that had been housed in same-sex groups after birth.

The mice were either left in their same-sex groups, housed in pairs, or were isolated altogether from their littermates for 16 to 18 hours.

Following this period, the team examined the effects on the animals' brain cells that control the release of stress hormones.

Laura Senst, lead author of the study, said: 'Isolating the female mice from their littermates for less than a day led to the release of a signalling chemical called corticosterone, which is produced in response to stressful situations.

The findings highlight the importance of a social network for females in particular and pave the way for future research into whether females befriend others as a coping mechanism during stressful situations (stock image)

The findings highlight the importance of a social network for females in particular and pave the way for future research into whether females befriend others as a coping mechanism during stressful situations (stock image)

'This reaction was not evident in their male counterparts.'

The results suggest that only young female mice, and not males, interpret social isolation as a type of stress.

In contrast with this, the researchers found that both male and female mice experienced physical stress in a similar way.

After the mice experienced a 20-minute swim, the researchers discovered that the activity elicited the same reaction in males as that seen in the females that had been isolated and also swam.

This suggests both sexes have the same sensitivity towards physical stress.

Dinara Baimoukhametova, co-author on the study, said: 'Our findings raise the interesting question of whether social and environmental changes during the crucial preadolescent stage of development could have long-term consequences for how males and females respond to stressful events later in life.' 

WOMEN ARE TWICE AS STRESSED AS MEN 

Women are twice as likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety as men, according to a major study.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental conditions in the Western world, affecting three million in the UK alone.

Yet experts say they remain woefully understood.

Now scientists at Cambridge University have found that women are 1.9 times as likely to suffer as men, a trend which persists throughout their lifetimes.

The researchers believe this may be because women now often have to juggle work, family and children – causing them to suffer from mental burn-out.

The study also showed that both men and women are at peak risk below the age of 35.

 

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