Sex differences in parental reaction to pediatric illness

Sigal Tifferet, Orly Manor, Shlomi Constantini, Orna Friedman, Yoel Elizur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The 'Tend-and Befriend' hypothesis claims that whereas the response of males to stress is Fight-or-Flight, females respond with Tend-and-Befriend. We tested this hypothesis with a sample of 110 couples whose children had undergone neurosurgery. Both mothers and fathers answered questionnaires measuring levels of tending, befriending, stress, anxiety, and depression. As hypothesized, mothers scored higher than fathers did on all measures. However, according to the Tend-and Befriend hypothesis, the sex difference in tending and befriending should be more pronounced in couples suffering from high-stress in comparison to couples suffering from low-stress. This hypothesis was not supported by the data. We suggest that the heightened tending and befriending of women is not a reaction to stress, instead it is a persistent maternal characteristic. Moreover, we suggest that maternal anxiety and depression result from a heightened maternal sensitivity, selected for caregiving. The study results imply that support interventions should be aimed mostly at mothers, since they experience more distress, in comparison to fathers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-125
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Child Health Care
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Caregiving
  • Parenting
  • Pediatric psychology
  • Sex differences
  • Stress


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