Masculine Persona May Lead to Mental Health Issues

New research suggests men who identify with strong masculine characteristics including promiscuity and having power over women, are more likely to have psychological problems.

Investigators from Indiana University Bloomington conducted a meta-analysis of 78 research samples involving 19,453 participants.

“In general, individuals who conformed strongly to masculine norms tended to have poorer mental health and less favorable attitudes toward seeking psychological help, although the results differed depending on specific types of masculine norms,” said lead author Y. Joel Wong, Ph.D..

The study appears in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

Wong and his colleagues focused on the relationship between mental health and conformity to 11 norms generally considered by experts to reflect society’s expectations of traditional masculinity:

  • desire to win;
  • need for emotional control;
  • risk-taking;
  • violence;
  • dominance;
  • playboy (sexual promiscuity);
  • self-reliance;
  • primacy of work (importance placed on one’s job);
  • power over women;
  • disdain for homosexuality;
  • pursuit of status

Specifically, they focused on three broad types of mental health outcomes: negative mental health (e.g., depression), positive mental health (e.g., life satisfaction), and psychological help seeking (e.g., seeking counseling services).

While most of the U.S.-based studies focused on predominantly white males, some focused predominantly on African-Americans and some on Asian-Americans.

Conforming to masculine norms was associated with negative mental health outcomes in subjects. In particular, the association was most consistent for norms of self-reliance, pursuit of playboy behavior, and power over women.

“The masculine norms of playboy and power over women are the norms most closely associated with sexist attitudes,” said Wong.

“The robust association between conformity to these two norms and negative mental health-related outcomes underscores the idea that sexism is not merely a social injustice, but may also have a detrimental effect on the mental health of those who embrace such attitudes.”

Even more concerning, said Wong, was that men who strongly conformed to masculine norms were not only more likely to have poor mental health but also less likely to seek mental health treatment.

There was one dimension for which the researchers were unable to find any significant effects.

“Primacy of work was not significantly associated with any of the mental health-related outcomes,” said Wong.

“Perhaps this is a reflection of the complexity of work and its implications for well-being. An excessive focus on work can be harmful to one’s health and interpersonal relationships, but work is also a source of meaning for many individuals.”

Also, conformity to the masculine norm of risk-taking was significantly associated with both negative and positive mental health outcomes. This finding suggests risk-taking can have both positive and negative psychological consequences, said Wong.

Source: Indiana University, Bloomington/EurekAlert