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Effects of Helper and Recipient Sex on the Experience and Outcomes of Comforting Messages: An Experimental Investigation
Unformatted Document Text:  Effects of Helper and Recipient Sex 5 Burleson and his colleagues (Burleson, 1997; Burleson, Kunkel, Samter, & Werking, 1996; Kunkel & Burleson, 1998) have suggested that although gendered socialization practices in contemporary Western societies lead women, on average, to be more skilled than men at the provision of emotional support, both men and women are best comforted by the same types of messages. Specifically, Burleson and colleagues hypothesized that both men and women will be best comforted by highly “person-centered” support strategies (i.e., messages that explicitly acknowledge, elaborate, legitimize, and encourage the exploration of a distressed other’s feelings and perspective). Less person-centered messages tend to avoid the discussion of feelings, seek to divert attention from distressed feelings and the problematic situation, or attempt to fix the problem that is producing the emotional distress. Consistent with research on personal coping (Pennebaker, 1997; Smyth & Pennebaker, 1999), social support (L. F. Clark, 1993; Thoits, 1986), and clinical interventions (Elliott, 1985; Greenberg, Rice, & Elliott, 1993), Burleson and Goldsmith (1998) also suggested that highly person-centered comforting messages foster the explicit verbalization of feelings by the distressed other and facilitate the other’s sense-making processes that are critical to the resolution of emotional distress. Accordingly, both men and women should benefit from such messages, and there is little reason to expect gender differences in the degree of benefit. To test this hypothesis Burleson and his colleagues conducted several studies in which participants read and rated the quality of numerous comforting messages that varied in degree of person centeredness. Uniform findings have been obtained in these “message perception” studies across different methods of message presentation, varied stimulus situations, and participant ethnicities and cultures: As predicted, both men and women evaluated messages that displayed high levels of person centeredness as more sensitive, effective, and helpful than

Authors: Jones, Susanne. and Burleson, Brant.
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Effects of Helper and Recipient Sex 5
Burleson and his colleagues (Burleson, 1997; Burleson, Kunkel, Samter, & Werking,
1996; Kunkel & Burleson, 1998) have suggested that although gendered socialization practices
in contemporary Western societies lead women, on average, to be more skilled than men at the
provision of emotional support, both men and women are best comforted by the same types of
messages. Specifically, Burleson and colleagues hypothesized that both men and women will be
best comforted by highly “person-centered” support strategies (i.e., messages that explicitly
acknowledge, elaborate, legitimize, and encourage the exploration of a distressed other’s feelings
and perspective). Less person-centered messages tend to avoid the discussion of feelings, seek to
divert attention from distressed feelings and the problematic situation, or attempt to fix the
problem that is producing the emotional distress. Consistent with research on personal coping
(Pennebaker, 1997; Smyth & Pennebaker, 1999), social support (L. F. Clark, 1993; Thoits,
1986), and clinical interventions (Elliott, 1985; Greenberg, Rice, & Elliott, 1993), Burleson and
Goldsmith (1998) also suggested that highly person-centered comforting messages foster the
explicit verbalization of feelings by the distressed other and facilitate the other’s sense-making
processes that are critical to the resolution of emotional distress. Accordingly, both men and
women should benefit from such messages, and there is little reason to expect gender differences
in the degree of benefit.
To test this hypothesis Burleson and his colleagues conducted several studies in which
participants read and rated the quality of numerous comforting messages that varied in degree of
person centeredness. Uniform findings have been obtained in these “message perception”
studies across different methods of message presentation, varied stimulus situations, and
participant ethnicities and cultures: As predicted, both men and women evaluated messages that
displayed high levels of person centeredness as more sensitive, effective, and helpful than


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