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Tend and Befriend during Hurricane Katrina

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You were more likely to survive Hurricane Katrina if you had the benefit of a social network with other women, according to researchers at the University of Missouri.

According to the article,

Jacqueline Litt, associate professor and chair of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at MU, found that informal family and community networks coordinated by women are vital in emergency situations. More than 50 people were evacuated from New Orleans, La., through the efforts of two "core anchors," a 58-year-old woman and her daughter, who initiated communication and organization using established familial and social relationships.

Litt found that warnings from the government didn't carry as much weight with people as word of mouth from people they already knew and trusted. And women, who tend to be better at communicating and keeping in touch, were better at getting the word out and getting people to act in time.

This finding reflects a reaction to danger or stress that UCLA psychologist Shelley Taylor dubbed "tend and befriend." According to Taylor, while men often go into fight-or-flight mode, women have evolved the tend and befriend strategy because it was more likely to ensure that the children would be safe or at least survive. If a mother stood up and fought -- and lost -- her child might be killed too. If the child wasn't killed, it could only survive if her kin or friend were willing to foster it.

Taylor thinks that oxytocin, the neurochemical of calm and bonding, might be at work in the tend-and-befriend survival strategy. Oxytocin is also the chemical of social connection, helping women to create and maintain the social networks that can help them and their children survive.

The example of these women during the hurricane is an excellent example of this survival mechanism in action.