The study we discussed in class on sex differences in physiological responses left me feeling unsatisfied. I found myself questioning the assertion that there are no sex differences in physiological responses to stress so I looked into it further. It turns out that the type of stressor may play a very important role.
Most studies, including the one we looked at, use achievement and instrumental stressors (arithmetic tasks, public speaking, etc.). These have all been unsuccessful in demonstrating sex differences. Some researchers propose that achievement and instrumental stressors may not be as salient for women, therefore these stressors may not elicit a strong physiological response. As a result, other studies have begun to look at stressors associated with the increased risk of depression in women, specifically interpersonal stressors (social rejection, marital conflict, etc.). These studies did find physiological differences between the sexes, specifically elevated cortisol reactivity in females. Therefore, sex differences in physiological response to stress do occur in certain situations. A link to a study that used marital conflict as a stressor can be found here.