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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 6 messages that displayed lower levels of person centeredness (Burleson & Mortenson, in press; Burleson & Samter, 1985; Jones & Burleson, 1997; Kunkel & Burleson, 1999; Samter, Burleson, & Murphy, 1987; Samter, Whaley, Mortenson, & Burleson, 1997). Small gender differences have occasionally been found in some of these studies (e.g., Jones & Burleson, 1997; Kunkel & Burleson, 1999); women rated highly person-centered messages somewhat more positively than men, and men rated low-person-centered messages somewhat more positively than women. In every case, however, these sex differences existed within a larger pattern of similarity where both men and women rated highly person-centered messages as superior to those that exhibited lower levels of person centeredness. These results are all the more noteworthy in light of other findings that indicate that highly person-centered comforting messages are perceived as more feminine in character, whereas comforting messages that exhibited a low level of person centeredness are viewed as masculine (Kunkel & Burleson, 1999). Moreover, considerable research indicates that women typically use comforting messages that exhibit a higher level of person centeredness than do men (Hale, Tighe, & Mongeau, 1997; MacGeorge, Clark, & Gillihan, 2002; Samter, 2002; Weger & Polcar, 2002). Despite the gender-typing of person-centered comforting as feminine, and actual gender differences in the person centeredness of messages produced, the available experimental evidence indicates that men and women generally use very similar standards in their evaluations of different comforting messages and both strongly prefer highly person-centered messages. Limitations in Message Perception Studies of Gender Differences There are several noteworthy limitations in the “message perception” paradigm as a vehicle for examining responses to comforting messages. Most important, message perception studies only obtain participants’ evaluations of messages used in hypothetical situations. Such

Authors: Jones, Susanne. and Burleson, Brant.
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Effects of Helper and Recipient Sex 6
messages that displayed lower levels of person centeredness (Burleson & Mortenson, in press;
Burleson & Samter, 1985; Jones & Burleson, 1997; Kunkel & Burleson, 1999; Samter, Burleson,
& Murphy, 1987; Samter, Whaley, Mortenson, & Burleson, 1997). Small gender differences
have occasionally been found in some of these studies (e.g., Jones & Burleson, 1997; Kunkel &
Burleson, 1999); women rated highly person-centered messages somewhat more positively than
men, and men rated low-person-centered messages somewhat more positively than women. In
every case, however, these sex differences existed within a larger pattern of similarity where
both men and women rated highly person-centered messages as superior to those that exhibited
lower levels of person centeredness.
These results are all the more noteworthy in light of other findings that indicate that
highly person-centered comforting messages are perceived as more feminine in character,
whereas comforting messages that exhibited a low level of person centeredness are viewed as
masculine (Kunkel & Burleson, 1999). Moreover, considerable research indicates that women
typically use comforting messages that exhibit a higher level of person centeredness than do men
(Hale, Tighe, & Mongeau, 1997; MacGeorge, Clark, & Gillihan, 2002; Samter, 2002; Weger &
Polcar, 2002). Despite the gender-typing of person-centered comforting as feminine, and actual
gender differences in the person centeredness of messages produced, the available experimental
evidence indicates that men and women generally use very similar standards in their evaluations
of different comforting messages and both strongly prefer highly person-centered messages.
Limitations in Message Perception Studies of Gender Differences
There are several noteworthy limitations in the “message perception” paradigm as a
vehicle for examining responses to comforting messages. Most important, message perception
studies only obtain participants’ evaluations of messages used in hypothetical situations. Such


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