Men may overcompensate when their masculinity is threatened, says a new study.
Societal norms dictating that men should be masculine are powerful and this new University of Washington research finds that men who believe they fall short of those ideals might be prompted to reassert their masculinity in small but significant ways.
The research sought to understand how men respond when their masculinity is threatened, and looked at two specific strategies they might employ: playing up their manliness and rejecting feminine preferences.
The study found that male college students who were given falsely low results on a handgrip strength test exaggerated their height by three-quarters of an inch on average, reported having more romantic relationships, claimed to be more aggressive and athletic, and showed less interest in stereotypically feminine consumer products.
By contrast, men who received average score results, and whose masculinity was therefore not threatened, did not exaggerate those characteristics.
The findings underscore the pressure men feel to live up to gender stereotypes and the ways in which they might reinstate a threatened masculinity.
Lead author Sapna Cheryan said that people know that being seen as masculine is very important for a lot of men, adding that researchers discovered that the things that men were using to assert their masculinity were the very things that are used as signals of identity.
This research shows that men are under very strong prescriptive norms to be a certain way, and they work hard to correct the image they project when their masculinity is under threat, said co-author Benoit Monin.
The study is published in Social Psychology.