‘Be a man’: Social pressures surrounding masculinity can drive young men to be overly aggressive

DURHAM, N.C. — In today’s society, the social pressure that comes with being a man can be rather difficult. According to a study by researchers at Duke University, a young man’s masculinity has a strong dependency on other people’s opinions. Unfortunately, these opinions can act as a threat which triggers aggressive behavior.

“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,'” says lead author Adam Stanaland in a university release.

Some use ‘gender knowledge’ as a measure of self-worth

The Duke team followed 195 undergraduate students and a random selection of 391 men between ages 18 and 56 during their study. Participants answered questions based on sports, auto mechanics, and home repair — referring to this as “gender knowledge.”

Following this quiz, researchers randomly told the men their scores, while also detailing if theirs was higher score or lower than the average male.

“Our results suggest that the more social pressure a man feels to be masculine, the more aggressive he may be,” Stanaland reports.

Researchers added real-world elements of threat to their manhood by telling low-scoring men they were “less manly than the average man.”

Following this exercise, the group was asked to complete a series of sentence fragments, by adding in missing letters. The fragmented sentences helped reveal each participant’s state of mind. Some men showcased aggressive thoughts with their choices, but not all. For example, fragile-minded men provided with letters like “ha” would write “hate” instead of “happy,” choosing more violent responses than neutral ones.

Study authors note younger men (ages 18-29) were the strongest group of aggressors. Men between 30 and 37 years-old were mildly aggressive and those over 38 years-old displayed even milder responses.

Some men feel they have nothing to prove

The results also revealed that men who feel their masculinity comes from within and not their gender knowledge were unaffected by lower scores. For others, whose masculinity appears to rely on external worth, low scores affected their state of mind more significantly. Researchers say the more fragile-minded men acted “like a man” because of social pressures and the desire to be popular.

“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,” Stanaland says.

Female students did not have similar aggressive responses when study authors threatened their gender knowledge.

Concerningly, the study continued past the results of the questionnaire. Researchers report some low-scoring male participants sent threats to the designers of the study, adding more proof to the team’s findings.

Men report aggressive behavior in all sorts of domains,” Stanaland concludes. “Some of them are trying to prove their own manhood by being aggressive. Men’s violence, terrorism, violence against women, political aggression – fragile masculinity may explain many of these behaviors. It’s in everyone’s interest to understand this phenomenon better.”

The findings appear in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.