Introduction: People often report that they experience personal growth following traumatic events, but most research to date has relied on retrospective reports of growth months or years after an event. This study examines gender differences in reports of stress and growth in a stressful experimental situation. Method: To create a stressful situation, illness cognition was manipulated using a paradigm developed by Croyle and Ditto (1990), which altered subjective health status. Participants were 144 undergraduates (85% Caucasian; 73% female). Results: An analysis of variance indicated that females reported significantly more stress (mean = 3.89) than did males (mean = 2.83), F (1, 128) = 7.56, p = .007. There was no difference in personal growth for females (mean = 3.81) and males (mean = 3.66). When examining links between stress and quality of life, partial correlations indicated that more perceived stress reported by females, but not males, was related to worse physical and mental health, more negative affect, and lower self-esteem (all r’s > +/- .23, all p’s ≤ .024). By contrast, partial correlations examining links between personal growth and quality of life revealed one difference, but three similarities. More specifically, for females, more growth was related to better physical health; for both males and females, more growth was related to better mental health, more positive affect, and higher self-esteem (all r’s > .45, all p’s ≤ .030). Discussion: Taken together, the current findings suggest that only in some cases are males and females more similar than different.
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