A recent study provides hints as to how men and women may differ in their anticipation of a training event. The study, Sex differences in the use of anticipatory brain activity to encode emotional events, Glulia Galli et al., Neurosci 2011 [epub]., examined the ways women and men differ in how they anticipate a potentially emotional event and how those differences influence the encoding of those events in long-term memory.
Past reports have discussed classroom psychology, including how darkness promotes misbehavior, learners react negatively to others being mistreated, and how uncomfortable learners may experience real pain.
This study demonstrated that women’s neural responses show heightened activity before a perceived negative event, but not before one perceived positively. For men, there was no change in brain activity before either a positive or negatively perceived event.
Dr Giulia Galli, lead author and professor at UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, explained the following.
“When expecting a negative experience, women might have a higher emotional responsiveness than men, indicated by their brain activity. This is likely to then affect how they remember the negative event.
“For example, when watching disturbing scenes in films there are often cues before anything ‘bad’ happens, such as emotive music. This research suggests that the brain activity in women between the cue and the disturbing scene influences how that scene will be remembered. What matters for memory in men instead is mostly the brain activity while watching the scene.”
When expecting a negative experience, women might have a higher emotional responsiveness than men, indicated by their brain activity. This is likely to then affect how they remember the negative event.
If there is one event that can be considered as a potential negative, it’s being scheduled to attend a training, presentation, or a Military brief. Although there are adults who appreciate the opportunity presentations offer, to others it suggests a gap in knowledge that will need to be admitted in front of strangers and to an instructor who may have some control of their career options. It may also remind attendees of prior negative school experiences. Finally, some adults may feel they are “not “good” at learning and wish to avoid it.
All three factors suggest some potential for negative emotion among women attendees when anticipating an upcoming training, presentation, or brief.
The study also suggests that men may not think about the event at all. They are likely, instead, to wait and respond to whatever happens in the moment. This suggests that men may enter the presentation unprepared.
Both female and male responses are interesting, and somewhat cautionary.
Nether response suggests a critical need to do much different in advance of a training program, speech, or a Military brief, but it does suggest the importance of engaging participants with positive emotional content as soon as possible in a program.
It will likely help women relax so they can focus on learning and stimulate men to begin thinking about the material being presented.