Surprise: Women Respond Better to High-Pressure Situations, Study Finds

Good news for women this week is coming out of the Harvard Business Review. Perhaps unsurprising to many of our readers, the site shared research this week that shows that women respond better to competitive pressure than men do. 

The study, which analyzed 8,200 games from Grand Slam tennis matches, showed that male players’ performance suffered in high-stakes games. Comparatively, female players’ performance stayed the same in higher-stakes matches.

“Women choked less than men in situations that mattered,” according to the study’s author, Alex Krumer, of the University of St. Gallen. 

To be sure, tennis matches only account for a small portion of performance in the world at large. But measuring tennis matches makes it easy to measure competition and the stakes of a situation, Krumer said in an interview with the HBR

“If you look at the literature on cortisol, the stress hormone, you’ll find that levels of it increase more rapidly in men than in women — in scenarios from golf rounds to public speaking — and that those spikes can hurt performance,” Krumer noted. 

Translation: Men and women may actually have different chemicals that affect the ways we react to high-pressure situations.

This affects our lives outside of tennis, from the boardroom to our relationships. 

“Think about other roles in which you’d want people who stay calm under pressure — CEO positions at large companies, for example,” Krumer told HBR. “You don’t generally see average Joes or Janes filling them. You see a different type of elite, experienced performer. And still, only about 4% of Fortune 500 chief executives are women.”

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #28

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