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A socio-relational framework of sex differences in the expression of emotion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2009

Jacob Miguel Vigil
Department of Psychology, Center for Applied Research in Child and Adolescent Development, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL 32224-2673. j.vigil@unf.edu


Despite a staggering body of research demonstrating sex differences in expressed emotion, very few theoretical models (evolutionary or non-evolutionary) offer a critical examination of the adaptive nature of such differences. From the perspective of a socio-relational framework, emotive behaviors evolved to promote the attraction and aversion of different types of relationships by advertising the two most parsimonious properties of reciprocity potential, or perceived attractiveness as a prospective social partner. These are the individual's (a) perceived capacity or ability to provide expedient resources, or to inflict immediate harm onto others, and their (b) perceived trustworthiness or probability of actually reciprocating altruism (Vigil 2007). Depending on the unique social demands and relational constraints that each sex evolved, individuals should be sensitive to advertise “capacity” and “trustworthiness” cues through selective displays of dominant versus submissive and masculine versus feminine emotive behaviors, respectively. In this article, I introduce the basic theoretical assumptions and hypotheses of the framework, and show how the models provide a solid scaffold with which to begin to interpret common sex differences in the emotional development literature. I conclude by describing how the framework can be used to predict condition-based and situation-based variation in affect and other forms of expressive behaviors.

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