Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Mark Whisman


Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in adults in the United States, and there are consistent gender differences in both formal diagnoses and symptoms, with women twice as likely as men to experience depression. One hypothesis about this gender difference is that men and women differ in their responses to stress, which then impacts the development of depressive symptoms. These stress responses include fight-or-flight and tend-and-befriend behaviors. Previous studies showed that women primarily respond to stress with tend-and-befriend behaviors, whereas men generally respond with fight-or-flight. The aims of the current study were to (a) evaluate a self-report measure of tend-and-befriend and fight-or-flight stress responses, and (b) examine gender differences in the tend-and-befriend responses to stress and the degree to which gender differences in these responses account for the gender disparity so commonly seen in severity of depressive symptoms. University students responded to questionnaires online that assessed depressive symptoms and stress responses. Exploratory factor analyses of the items measuring behavioral stress responses supported a three-factor solution, measuring flight, fight, and tend-and-befriend. Results indicated that women endorsed significantly more depressive symptoms and more flight responses to stress than men, and gender differences in flight responses accounted for gender differences in depressive symptoms. This information contributes to the creation of a more comprehensive etiological explanation for depression and, in turn, may advance treatment and prevention efforts.

Available for download on Sunday, April 11, 2021