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Cabin pressure

Recently, I had the opportunity to witness first hand the way the different genders react to stress. It is one of the hazards of being interested in Psychology you know, this permanent fascination with the behaviours of those around you!

So, picture the scene. A plane full of passengers on a short flight across Europe. Nearing the end of the flight and the collective consciousness is already getting restless as the time of our scheduled arrival gets closer. And then it passes.

Then, the onerous ‘bing’ which heralds an announcement from the Captain. Yes, we had a situation developing. We had to divert to another airport to land, and from there we would be refuelled, and soon be on our way back to our original destination.

So, we landed, refuelled and waited. And waited. And waited.

How would you have reacted?

We were given permission to use phones and electronic devices, so a huge number of people did. Some to call those waiting to collect them, others to surf everyone from the airline webpages to the local news channels and see if they could find out what was going on.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this was the difference in how the two genders reacted. You see men are more likely to react in a more physical way, being programmed for the ‘fight or flight’ response we usually associate with stress. Their base response is to take action. Women on the other hand do not, they are more likely to use the alternative tactics commonly referred to as ‘tend and befriend’. These play to their base response of focusing on feelings – both those of themselves and others. So, how did these differences manifest themselves?

Well, before long a group of men gathered at the front of the plane, needing to control, influence and resolve the situation. The focus for them was on the cabin crew, the ground staff and the constant visits either group made to the cockpit. Reading the body language from my seat, this soon appeared to become intimidating and even hostile.

Meanwhile, the women were adopting their different approach. Remaining seated, they were the ones who were phoning family and friends and striking up conversations with those around them, created a shared experience which built rapport and bonds.

Ultimately, the situation was resolved and the plane eventually took off again – arriving 2 hours later than scheduled. I dare say that most of the people on that flight have forgotten about the ordeal already. So, did one gender come out of it any better than the other? Maybe the combination of both approaches provided the optimum coping mechanism? I’m not totally sure.

All I do know, is that in situations such as that, we get a real reminder of how beautifully we have evolved and adapted…for a life we, in the western world, no longer live.

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