For years, popular psychologists have insisted that boys and men would like to talk about their problems but are held back by fears of embarrassment or appearing weak,
said Amanda J. Rose, associate professor of psychological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science.
However, when we asked young people how talking about their problems would make them feel, boys didn’t express angst or distress about discussing problems any more than girls. Instead, boys’ responses suggest that they just don’t see talking about problems to be a particularly useful activity.
The researchers conducted four different surveys on about 2,000 children and adolescents and found that, contrary to commonly held psychological ideas about the male rationale behind the reluctance to talk about problems, males generally considered discussing problems “a waste of time.”
While the girls in the study had positive and negative assumptions about what the outcome of discussing a problem would be, such as feeling more cared for or less alone, or feeling embarrassed, the boys generally made neither assumption more than the girls. Instead boys reported that talking about problems would just make them feel “weird.”
The authors of the study say that this may have implications for romantic relationships. While the female in the relationship may urge the male to discuss problems, with the assumption that it will move things forward or make them feel better, the male may in fact just be coming from a different place psychologically. This “pursue-withdraw” dance that most relationships do, where the female will press for the discussion of a problem and the male will withdraw and refuse, may indeed be a cognitive necessity for males, rather than “something to fix.”
Maybe my girlfriend will finally understand why I would rather get lost than ask for directions.
The paper, “How Girls and Boys Expect Disclosure About Problems Will Make Them Feel: Implications for Friendships,” will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Child Development.