Men with a fragile sense of masculinity more likely to act aggressively to ‘prove’ their manliness


When their manhood is threatened, some men respond aggressively and its those who have a ‘fragile sense of masculinity’ who are most likely to do so, a study shows. 

Two studies by Duke University researchers looked at 195 undergraduate students and a random pool of 391 men aged 18 to 56 for their views on ‘manliness’.

Younger men, whose sense of masculinity depends on other people’s opinions, are among the most triggered when their manliness is under threat, they found.

The team found that the ‘more social pressure a man feels to be masculine, the more aggressive he may be’ and it is due to a need to live up to strict gender norms. 

‘Men’s violence, terrorism, violence against women, political aggression – fragile masculinity may explain many of these,’ said lead author Adam Stanaland. 

Younger men, whose sense of masculinity depends on other people’s opinions, are among the most triggered when their manliness is under threat, they found 

‘WORD PUZZLES’ USED TO DETERMINE AGGRESSION LEVELS 

After completing the questionnaire volunteers had to complete a word.

They were given two letters and asked to fill in the rest to create a word of their choice.

When given ‘ki’ the more aggressive men wrote ‘kill’ instead of ‘kiss’.

Given ‘bl’ they would write ‘blood’ instead of the ‘bloom’ or ‘blow’ written by the less aggressive men.

After the experiment was over some of the most aggressive men sent the study designers violent threats. 

The study participants were asked a series of questions about ‘gender knowledge’ – including stereotypical ‘male topics’ including sports, car repair and DIY. 

After answering, participants were randomly told their score was either higher or lower than that of an average person of their gender.  

Stanaland, a PhD candidate in psychology at Duke, said many men feel the need to act aggressively to ‘prove their manhood’.

‘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’.’

To simulate real-world threats to manhood, men who received a low score were also told they were ‘less manly than the average man.’

After receiving their quiz scores, study participants were asked to complete a series of word fragments by adding missing letters, in order to reveal their state of mind.

Results were striking, revealing aggressive thoughts among certain men but not others, explained Stanaland.

Men whose sense of masculinity came from within seemed unruffled by receiving a low score – being told they were ‘less manly’ didn’t seem to bother them. 

It was a different story for men with a more fragile sense of masculinity, whose feelings of masculinity relied on others. 

That group included men who said they behaved ‘like a man’ due to social pressures such as the desire to fit in, be liked or get dates.

Men with a more fragile sense of masculinity responded to the word fragments by creating words with violent associations rather than neutral meanings. 

For instance, when provided with the letters ‘ki’ and asked to complete the word, they wrote ‘kill’ rather than, say, ‘kiss.’ When given the letters ‘blo,’ they typed ‘blood’ instead of a word such as ‘blow’ or ‘bloom.’

The team found that the 'more social pressure a man feels to be masculine, the more aggressive he may be' and it is down to a need to live up to strict gender norms

The team found that the ‘more social pressure a man feels to be masculine, the more aggressive he may be’ and it is down to a need to live up to strict gender norms

FINGER LENGTH could reveal your food choices 

The length of a person’s fingers could reveal whether someone is more likely to order ‘masculine’ food like burgers or ‘feminine’ food like salads, a new study claims. 

Researchers looked at people’s 2D:4D digit ratios – the difference in length between the index and ring finger – and how this related to their food choices.  

A lower 2D:4D digit ratio (having a longer ring finger than index finger) is said to indicate higher exposure to testosterone in the womb – and is therefore suggestive of masculinity.  

In experiments, hungry people with low digit ratios made more masculine food choices – regardless of whether they were actually men or women.   

Those aggressive responses were strongest among the youngest study participants, men between 18 and 29 years old. 

The response was milder among middle-aged men between ages 30 and 37, and milder still among the oldest group of participants, men ages 38 years old and older.

‘It’s clear that younger men are more sensitive to threats against their masculinity,’ Stanaland said.

‘In those years, as men attempt to find or prove their place in society, their masculine identity may be more fragile. 

‘In many places, this means that younger men are hit constantly with threats to their manhood. They have to prove their manhood every day of their lives.’

Female students did not display a similar aggressive response when their gender was threatened – only men, the authors found.

Men’s aggressive responses didn’t end with the questionnaire, researchers noted. 

The study designers received violent threats from some men who received low scores – further evidence that the study hit a nerve.

Stanaland said he hopes to delve further into the forces that shape men’s aggression in future studies.

‘Men report aggressive behaviour in all sorts of domains,’ Stanaland said. ‘Some of them are trying to prove their own manhood by being aggressive.

‘It’s in everyone’s interest to understand this phenomenon better.’ 

The findings have been published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 

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