Psychologists have long known that boys are less inclined than girls to talk about their personal issues. Now, a new study teases out what’s going on: Boys feel that talking about their problems is simply a waste of time.
The speculation for years had been that boys fear embarrassing themselves or being made fun of, but that had never been proven, says the study’s lead author Amanda Rose, an associate professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri.
To test it, Prof. Rose and colleagues conducted four different studies and surveys of about 2,000 children and adolescents – including one in which they observed and timed interactions between close male friends and close female friends talking about their problems, such as social conflicts or bullying, in a lab.
Boys spent less time talking about problems than girls did. But they didn’t report worrying about how they’d be perceived. Instead, “they just do not think there’s much utility in it,” Prof. Rose says.
To what extent biology and environment contribute to these gender patterns is still anyone’s guess.
"It could be that boys and girls come into the world with inclinations to behave differently, and they see their parents engage in these sex-type styles. And once they get to school, it’s their peers. Definitely nurture stacks the deck,” Prof. Rose says.
Whatever the case, girls report positive “warm, fuzzy” feelings when they discuss personal issues with each other, which reinforces the pattern.
Prof. Rose, who is the mother of a boy and a girl, adds that studies like this can be useful for parents who have been working the emotional angle with their sons. “With boys, it might be useful instead to say, ‘Hey, you know, if you tell me what’s happening at school maybe I can help you find a solution.’ ”
And grown-ups of both sexes can apply these findings, she suggests. “With that awareness, it might be possible for men and women to be less defensive in their styles and open to being a little more flexible.”
Does this study ring true to you? What’s the best way to get boys to open up?