When men's sense of masculinity is challenged or threatened, some react aggressively while others do not.
According to a new study, published on January 27 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by researchers from Duke University, the most triggered by these words or from the threats to masculinity are younger men whose sense of masculinity depends heavily on the opinions of other people.
"Our results suggest that the more social pressure a man feels to be masculine, the more aggressive he may be," said study's lead author and psychology and policy Ph. D. candidate Adam Stanaland.
"When those men feel they are not living up to strict gender norms, they may feel the need to act aggressively to prove their manhood -- to 'be a man.'"
Masculinity From Within vs. A Fragile Sense of Masculinity
In two separate but complementary studies, the researchers considered 195 undergraduate students and a random pool of 391 men from 18 to 56 years old. The participants were asked to answer a series of questions about "gender knowledge."
After answering, they were randomly told that their score is higher or lower than the average person of their gender. For instance, men who scored low were told that they were less manly than the average man.
When they received their test scores, they were told to add the missing letters in a series of word fragments to complete these words. In that way, the researchers will reveal their state of mind, which revealed striking results of aggressive cognition among certain men but not all of the participants.
Science Daily reported that those men whose sense of masculinity is from within seemed to be unbothered by the low score they received. In contrast, those men with a more fragile sense of masculinity created words with violent associations rather than neutral meanings during the completion f word fragments activity.
Men with fragile masculinity are those whose feelings of masculinity relies on the opinions of others. They include the group of men who try to fit in to be liked, to get dates, or those who bow down to social pressures.
These men were more likely to write the word "kill" after the given letters "ki" than the word "kiss." They also answered "blow" instead of "bloom" when given the letters "blo."
Aggressive Responses Mostly Came From Younger Men
The participants' aggressive responses were most likely to come from the younger men in the study; these men were age between 18 and 29 years old. While mild responses came from men aged 30 and 37, the milder responses were from the oldest group of participants, ages 38 and above.
Stanaland noted that the study had given a clear message: the younger men are, the more they feel threats towards their masculinity.
These are the years in a man's life when they are still attempting to find their place in society, and his sense of masculinity at this age may be more fragile. Men in many places have their sense of masculinity constantly challenged as they try to prove their manhood every day of their lives, Stanaland added.
Interestingly, Psychology Today reported that female participants did not display aggressive behavior when their gender was questioned. Ultimately, these findings reveal that the pressure men feel to be the stereotypical man elicits aggressive behavior when under threat.