Skill Deficit or Differential Motivation?: Testing Alternative Explanations for Gender Differences in the Provision of Emotional Support

Erina J. MacGeorge
Seth J. Gillihan
Wendy Samter
Ruth Anne Clark

Document Type Article

Published in Communication Research, volume 30 issue 3, 2003. Bryant users may access this article here.


Although researchers have proposed a skill deficit account for observed gender differences in the provision of emotional support, few studies have directly tested the claim that men are less capable of providing effective support. This study advances an alternative account for gender differences in the effectiveness of supportive communication, arguing that gender differences may emerge because men and women respond differently to situational factors that influence the motivation to provide sensitive emotional support. Participants produced emotional support messages in response to scenarios varying in target gender, target responsibility for the problem, and target effort to resolve the problem, as well as in response to the problem itself (a replication factor included to increase generalizability). Women produced messages exhibiting greater emotional sensitivity than those of men across the other factors examined, providing support for the skill deficit account and failing to provide evidence of differential motivation.