Typically, defensiveness-a trait characterized as rejecting, repressing, or contradicting information that's perceived as threatening-is viewed as a negative quality, and in a lot of ways it is; for men, however, this may not be the case.

You've seen it: the coworker contradicting or becoming uptight about constructive criticism, or the friend that flips the switch from friendly to antagonistic once you crack a joke.

The Study
A study conducted by the Montreal Heart Institute evaluated 81 men and 118 women with ages ranging from 20 to 64 years.

The participants took part in a variety of stressful tasks while their levels of stress and defensiveness were monitored. In addition to stress and defensiveness levels,

  • blood pressure,
  • heart rate,
  • and salivary cortisol levels were measured as well.

While the women who were more defensive demonstrated higher stress levels, including higher blood pressure and heart rate, the opposite was true for men.

Men who were more defensive during the testing showed lower signs of stress compared to less-defensive men.

Interpreting the Results
Conventional wisdom would say that, regardless of gender, one's defensiveness would have a similar impact on health. However, the results could suggest that men are generally more comfortable with being assertive and speaking their minds.

Although there seems to be a physiological benefit for men, it does not necessarily mean that defensiveness is an emotionally and professionally admirable trait. In fact, overly aggressive responses to a loved one or in the workplace can destroy relationships and get you into hot water with coworkers.

Managing Stress
Whether you're a man or a woman, there are healthy ways to manage stressful situations.

  • Exercise. You may not think of a workout as relaxing, but several studies have shown that a regular exercise regimen lowers stress. Get out and get moving.
  • Write it down. Count the good things in your life by keeping a gratitude journal-take 5 minutes each day to write in the journal things that made your day or that you're grateful for.
  • Take a deep breath. If you find yourself in a stressful situation, take a moment to collect your thoughts. Simply taking a step back and a deep breath to evaluate what's bothering you could help. Not every point is worth arguing.

Karine Lévesque, D. S. Moskowitz, Jean-Claude Tardif, Gilles Dupuis, Bianca D'antono. Physiological stress responses in defensive individuals: Age and sex matter. Psychophysiology, 2010; 47 (2): 332 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2009.00943.x