Date of Award

January 2013

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Joan Monin

Second Advisor

Becca Levy


This study examined gender differences in caregivers' use of agentic and communal words when talking about their care recipients' suffering and how this related to their stress, in terms of cardiovascular reactivity and self-reported negative emotion. Seventy-six older adult caregivers of spouses with chronic pain were recorded while describing an incident of their spouses' suffering. Caregivers' heart rate (HR) was continuously monitored during their speeches, and they reported their emotions (distress and anger) after their speeches. In addition, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was calculated using HR. Results indicated that male caregivers were more likely to talk about a relational episode of their partner's suffering than female caregivers. There were no significant gender differences in communal or agentic word use, and type of word use was not associated with stress; however, associations between word use and stress differed significantly by caregiver gender. These differences suggested that acting in gender conforming roles was protective in female caregivers; whereas, acting in gender non-conforming roles was associated with increased stress in male caregivers. We also found that communally focused relationships were beneficial for men. The findings reveal novel characteristics that might influence caregiver emotional regulation capacity and suggest the need to consider caregiver experiences differently for men and women, and to examine couples as whole.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access