Holding the view that masculinity has a negative impact on behavior is associated with lower mental well-being, according to a new study of more than 4,000 men. The findings shed light on the relationship between social perceptions of masculinity and individual mental health, challenging previous notions that masculine attitudes are inherently harmful or detrimental. The study was published in the International Journal of Health Sciences.
For decades, masculinity has been a topic of public and academic debate. Historically, traits such as being active, dominant and autonomous were synonymous with masculinity. However, since the 1980s, there has been a remarkable change. Masculinity began to be seen through a more critical lens, often associated with negative traits such as misogyny and homophobia, and linked to issues such as poor mental health and aggressive behaviour.
This transition was partly fueled by sociological theories, leading to what some call a “deficit model” of masculinity – focusing mainly on its negative aspects. But how accurate is this negative portrayal, and what impact does it have on men’s mental health? This was the central question that guided the researchers in this extensive study.
“Suicide is about three times higher in men than in women worldwide, but the reasons for this tend to be overlooked or misunderstood,” said study author John Barry, co-founder of the Center for Male Psychology and author of “Perspectives in Male Psychology”. : Introduction.
“When I started researching male psychology more than a decade ago, I based my hypothesis on the dominant explanation at the time – that poor mental health and suicide are linked to masculinity. My findings did not support convincingly this hypothesis, so I delved into the existing research and realized that much of it was based on a surprisingly negative view of masculinity that did not seem grounded in the reality of male mental health and suicide.”
The study, a comprehensive online survey, was conducted with 2,023 men from the United Kingdom and 2,002 from Germany. The survey, designed to gather a wide range of data, asked questions about demographic details such as age, marital status and employment, as well as more subjective areas such as their personal values. and how healthy they feel.
A key part of this survey was the Positive Mindset Index, a tool used to measure mental positivity. This scale consists of questions designed to assess feelings of happiness, confidence, control, emotional stability, motivation, and optimism.
The survey also included several questions specifically about masculinity, designed to understand how men perceive its impact on their lives. These questions were grouped into categories that reflected whether men saw masculinity as having a negative or positive impact on them, or whether they considered it irrelevant in today’s society.
Men who reported greater satisfaction with their personal growth had significantly higher mental positivity. This was the strongest predictor of mental well-being in both countries. Contrary to stereotypes of happiness decreasing with age, the study found that older men reported higher levels of mental positivity. Men more satisfied with their health also reported higher mental positivity.
Perhaps most notably, the study found that men who had a less negative view of masculinity reported higher levels of mental positivity. This was particularly evident in the UK sample. In other words, when men disagreed with statements like “Masculinity prevents me from talking about how I feel about my problems,” they tended to have a better overall mental outlook.
In Germany, not only did a less negative view of masculinity correlate with better mental health, but a positive view of masculinity was also a significant predictor of higher mental positivity. Positive views of masculinity include attitudes such as a sense of protection towards women and the desire to be a strong pillar of support for the family.
“‘Toxic masculinity is toxic terminology,'” Barry told PsyPost. “We all need to stop using toxic terminology like “toxic masculinity”, because it is possible that these ideas are being internalized by men and boys and have a negative impact. In some cases, men with serious mental health problems can “act” in antisocial behaviors, so it is likely that toxic terminology – in the media, schools, government and elsewhere – increases the likelihood of behaviors that are intended to reduce. Instead, it could help if we emphasize more the ways that masculinity can be a positive influence on men and society.”
In all age groups, men generally agreed that their sense of masculinity was associated with feeling protective towards women. However, the study revealed interesting generational differences in how masculinity influences violent attitudes toward women. Older men, more than their younger counterparts, disagreed with the idea that masculinity “makes me inclined to be violent towards women.” On average, men over the age of 60 largely disagreed with this proposition, while men under the age of 40 were noticeably more inclined to agree with it.
“Men who felt protective toward women had better mental well-being, while those who felt violent toward women had lower mental well-being,” Barry said. “I am surprised and saddened that younger men, under the age of 35 or 40, think that masculinity makes them feel violent towards women. I suspect that this self-concept is due to the influence of negative concepts on masculinity perpetuated in our culture in recent decades.”
While the study provides valuable insights, it is important to note its limitations. The cross-sectional nature of the survey means that while it can highlight correlations, it cannot definitively prove cause and effect.
“Correlation is not causation,” Barry said. “This is the case for many studies, but it is worth noting that, for example, we cannot say from this study whether poor mental well-being causes people to think negatively about masculinity, or vice versa.”
Looking to the future, this research paves the way for more studies to explore how different cultures and age groups perceive masculinity and its impact on mental well-being. Longitudinal studies, which track the same individuals over time, could provide deeper insight into how perceptions of masculinity evolve and influence men’s mental health throughout their lives.
“It’s not people’s fault that they think masculinity is bad, after all, we all live in an information soup created by policy-making organizations, governments, academia and the media, everyone tells us in different ways that masculinity is a problem,” Barry added. . “However, the psychology profession needs to find its way out of this fog in order to properly understand and address male psychology and men’s mental health.”
The study was titled: “The belief that masculinity has a negative influence on one’s behavior is linked to a reduction in mental well-being.”
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