Newspaper reports of murder and mayhem make women -- but not men -- more sensitive to stress.
Women were also more likely to remember the gory details of what they had read, a study found.
Scientists believe the response may be an evolutionary throwback linked to motherhood.
Increased empathy and danger awareness would have helped our female ancestors ensure the survival of their offspring.
Researchers asked 60 men and women to read genuine news stories.
Some were "neutral" reports of events such as a film premiere, or the opening of a new park. Others involved "bad news" events, including murders and accidents.
Saliva levels of the stress hormone cortisol were measured to assess the effect of reading the stories.
The next day the volunteers were asked to talk about what they had read.
Lead scientist Dr Marie-France Marin, from the University of Montreal in Canada, said: "Although the news stories alone did not increase stress levels, they did make the women more reactive, affecting their physiological responses to later stressful situations.
"Women were able to remember more of the details of the negative stories. We did not observe this phenomenon among the male participants."
Stress increases the level of cortisol in the saliva, providing a simple way to measure stress.
The fact that women appear to be more empathic than men may be linked to their stress response, say the scientists.
Professor Terrie Moffitt, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said: "Women seem more reactive to stressors, but then they go on to outlive men by quite a few years.
"How do women manage to neutralise the effects of stress on their cardiovascular systems?
"An answer to that question would improve health for all of us."