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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 7 judgments obviously differ in important ways from participant reports about the actual effectiveness of messages in instances of live, face-to-face interaction. For example, it seems likely that women’s actual responses to different comforting messages will closely resemble their evaluations of messages depicted in hypothetical situations. That is, women will probably be better comforted by highly person-centered messages. However, the same may not be true for men. Men may think they will be comforted best by highly person-centered messages when reading lists of message options that were developed for hypothetical situations. However, research exploring “masculine gender role stress” (e.g., Eisler & Skidmore, 1987; Saurer & Eisler, 1990) suggest that in actual instances of face-to-face interaction, men may find the explicit elaboration and exploration of their feelings discomforting. Thus, men may experience as most effective more instrumental approaches to support that focus on distraction from or the eradication of the problematic situation. Clearly, then, there is a need to examine gender differences in the experienced effectiveness of various comforting messages used in actual, face- to-face supportive interactions. Second, most of the message perception studies reported by Burleson and his colleagues have not systematically examined how the sex of the helper (i.e., the message source) influences the effects of different comforting messages. Nurturance and emotional support in general, and the use of highly person-centered comforting messages in particular, are highly gendered activities that are much more associated in our culture with women than with men (Eagly, 1987; Kunkel & Burleson, 1998; Wood, 1994). The use of highly person-centered comforting messages by male helpers may thus violate conventional expectations about masculine behavior. Previous researchers have found that violation of gender-based expectations and norms for communicative behavior is distracting and can elicit negative evaluations of the message source

Authors: Jones, Susanne. and Burleson, Brant.
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Effects of Helper and Recipient Sex 7
judgments obviously differ in important ways from participant reports about the actual
effectiveness of messages in instances of live, face-to-face interaction. For example, it seems
likely that women’s actual responses to different comforting messages will closely resemble their
evaluations of messages depicted in hypothetical situations. That is, women will probably be
better comforted by highly person-centered messages. However, the same may not be true for
men. Men may think they will be comforted best by highly person-centered messages when
reading lists of message options that were developed for hypothetical situations. However,
research exploring “masculine gender role stress” (e.g., Eisler & Skidmore, 1987; Saurer &
Eisler, 1990) suggest that in actual instances of face-to-face interaction, men may find the
explicit elaboration and exploration of their feelings discomforting. Thus, men may experience
as most effective more instrumental approaches to support that focus on distraction from or the
eradication of the problematic situation. Clearly, then, there is a need to examine gender
differences in the experienced effectiveness of various comforting messages used in actual, face-
to-face supportive interactions.
Second, most of the message perception studies reported by Burleson and his colleagues
have not systematically examined how the sex of the helper (i.e., the message source) influences
the effects of different comforting messages. Nurturance and emotional support in general, and
the use of highly person-centered comforting messages in particular, are highly gendered
activities that are much more associated in our culture with women than with men (Eagly, 1987;
Kunkel & Burleson, 1998; Wood, 1994). The use of highly person-centered comforting
messages by male helpers may thus violate conventional expectations about masculine behavior.
Previous researchers have found that violation of gender-based expectations and norms for
communicative behavior is distracting and can elicit negative evaluations of the message source


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