by Pat Heim, Ph.D.

While co-writing my book In the Company of Women, Indirect Aggression Among Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop (Tarcher, 2001) my co-authors and I received a soon to be published study about stress and women. Suddenly everything made sense.

If you have read anything about stress research in the last 40 years, what you have been told is that the human response to stress is “fight or flight.” Dr. Shelley Taylor and her team of researchers at UCLA discovered that 83% of that research had been done on males (human and animal). She and her colleagues then reviewed several hundred studies in a variety of scientific journals and found that when females are stressed the chemical oxytocin kicks in, while when men are stressed testosterone and vasopressin show up. Oxytocin has been called the “love hormone.” It causes women to want to be close to others and results in a stress reaction that Taylor calls “tend and befriend.” That is, when women are under stress they either want to be with their babies or be with a friend. This results in the strong emotional ties that women develop with each other, which can be terrible, if the relationship goes sour, or wonderfully close if all is well.