Are Men More Aggressive When Masculinity is Threatened?

According to a new study, if men feel their manhood is being threatened, there may be a psychological factor that results in aggressive behavior. Jennifer K. Bosson and Joseph A. Vandello, psychologists at the University of South Florida, conducted a study that required men to perform what most people consider feminine activities. Half of the men were asked to braid hair, while the other half were asked to braid rope. When the task was completed, the men were then allowed the choice of completing a puzzle or hitting a punching bag. The men who braided the hair overwhelmingly chose to hit the punching bag. When all of the men, hair braiders and rope braiders alike, were asked to punch the bag, those who braided hair punched the bag more aggressively. When all of the men were required to braid hair and only some allowed to punch the bag, those who were not allowed to physically hit something displayed more anxiety when tested further.

The findings indicate what researchers already believed to be true. “Gender is social,” says, Bosson. “Men know this. They are powerfully concerned about how they appear in other people’s eyes.” This fear of identity crisis based on activities may lead to psychological distress when men are put in the position to act in what they perceive to be feminine ways. This effect may also explain why some men show increased anxiety and aggression when they face similar threats to manhood, like being fired or not being able to win a game or sport.

The researchers define this type of aggression as a “manhood-restoring tactic.” Bosson goes on to explain that these findings support theories relating to the psychological effects that social categorizing of gender has on the male population. Many men who identify their value with masculine activities may suffer anxiety, aggression, depression, or low self-esteem when conditions affecting their masculinity are unfavorable.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sean

    sean

    May 5th, 2011 at 4:31 AM

    Oh I see this all of the time. I am in college and when we play intramural sports it can be brutal! There are guys who will try to take you out for no reason other than they feel like you embarassed them or something. And maybe you were just playing the game but they can take it so personal especially if they feel like they have been made to look weak. Guys are much worse about retaliating for things like this than girls are.

  • Sheryl

    Sheryl

    May 5th, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    I was going to say the exact thing Sean! I’m in high school and sometimes we get a few guys to play girls in dramas and although they do carry it off well you really have to see how manly they act after that… :)

  • Andy hick

    Andy hick

    May 6th, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    This is natural…If you give a man a non-conventional task,a task that is generally feminine then he will obviously feel the need to display his masculinity. There will definitely be feelings of his masculinity being threatened and the usual defense system comes into play.

  • Ian

    Ian

    May 10th, 2011 at 9:15 PM

    They say it takes the manliest of men to wear pink. Mainly because a guy who will doesn’t let something as simple as a color threaten his masculinity. It’s about having confidence in who you are and knowing your clothing doesn’t define you.

  • Rickie

    Rickie

    May 10th, 2011 at 11:02 PM

    I’ll admit I do a few things that aren’t considered manly, but I’m a man, I’m straight, and I have no issues with doing things that aren’t. Why? Because I’m not an idiot who thinks braiding hair suddenly alters my DNA to include more XX chromosomes. That’s laughable.

  • Kristin

    Kristin

    May 11th, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    @Rickie, completely agreed! Men who get worked up over doing a person’s hair clearly aren’t men at all. They’re just children in a playground, not men. They have serious issues they need help with, if even the idea of being perceived as less manly makes them aggressive and anxious. It reminds me of the way little boys run from girls yelling “cooties!” LOL

  • Russ

    Russ

    May 12th, 2011 at 7:08 PM

    *points at his head* “Gender is up here.”

    *points at his heart* “Orientation is right here.”

    *points at his groin* “Sex is down here.”

  • Rowen

    Rowen

    May 12th, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    What’s acceptable for one gender compared to the other is influenced by society, instincts, and physical capabilities. There is nothing instinctive about braiding hair, and thus, nothing effeminate about it. That’s society’s influence talking, and an ignorant one at that. I’m sure the Native American warriors of old didn’t feel that way about their braids!

  • Wayne

    Wayne

    May 12th, 2011 at 9:11 PM

    @Rowen, exactly! That’s what these men don’t get. Thinking aggression is a manhood restoring tactic is not a good way to go either. If your wife asks you to do a “woman’s job” like clean the house, are you going to get aggressive to “protect your manhood”? I certainly hope not! You’re pitching in to help the home run smoothly because you’re a team, not being robbed of your masculinity. Talk about insecure…

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