Does Trait Masculinity Relate to Expressing Toughness? The Effects of Masculinity Threat and Self-Affirmation in College Men

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Men have higher morbidity and mortality rates than women across the life span. One potential explanation for this gap is greater pressure for men to express their masculine toughness. Situations that threaten masculinity often result in compensatory behaviors (e.g., binge drinking) geared toward proving toughness. The present research tested the hypothesis that threats to masculinity would lead men to behave in ways that express toughness to a greater extent if they were highly masculine, as measured by the Bem Sex-Role Inventory. Further, we anticipated that self-affirmation would ameliorate the compensatory responding exhibited by higher masculine men under threat. Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 experimental cells in a 2 (Masculine Identity Threat: yes, no) × 2 (Self-Affirmation: yes, no) between-subjects factorial design. Results indicated that men expressed masculine toughness to a greater extent when facing a masculinity threat than when under no threat. Further, higher masculinity amplified the effect of threat in expressing toughness. Results also showed that the opportunity to self-affirm reduced expression of toughness among higher masculine men facing a masculinity threat. Theoretical contributions, implications, and future directions for this line of research are discussed.

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