Holding the view that masculinity negatively affects one’s behavior is linked to lower mental well-being, according to a new study of more than 4,000 men. The findings shed light on the relationship between societal perceptions of masculinity and individual mental health, challenging previous ideas that masculine attitudes are inherently harmful or harmful. The study was published in International Journal of Health Sciences.
Masculinity has been a topic of public and academic debate for decades. Historically, traits like active, dominant, and self-effacing were synonymous with masculinity. However, there has been a significant shift since the 1980s. Masculinity began to be viewed through a more critical lens, often associated with negative traits such as misogyny and homophobia, and associated with issues such as poor mental health and aggressive behaviour.
This transition was fueled in part by sociological theories, leading to what some call a “deficit model” of masculinity – focusing primarily on its negative aspects. But how accurate is this negative image 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 are often overlooked or misunderstood,” said study author John Barry, co-founder of the Center for Men’s Psychology and author of Perspectives in Men’s Psychology: An Introduction. “
“When I started researching male psychology more than ten years ago, I based my hypothesis on the dominant explanation at the time that poor mental health and suicide were associated with masculinity. My findings did not conclusively support this hypothesis, so I dug deeper 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, an extensive 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 Thinking Index, a tool used to measure mental positivity. This scale consists of questions designed to assess feelings of happiness, self-confidence, control, emotional stability, motivation, and optimism.
The survey also included several questions specifically about masculinity, designed to understand how men see its impact on their lives. These questions were grouped into categories that reflected whether men see masculinity as having a negative or positive effect on them, or whether they see it as irrelevant in today’s society.
Men who reported greater satisfaction with their personal growth had significantly greater mental positivity. This was the strongest predictor of mental well-being in both countries. Contrary to stereotypes about happiness declining with age, the study found that older men reported higher levels of mental positivity. Men who were more satisfied with their health also reported greater mental positivity.
Perhaps most importantly, 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 was a less negative view of masculinity correlated with better mental health, but a positive view of masculinity was also a significant predictor of greater mental positivity. Positive views of masculinity included attitudes such as feeling protective of women and wanting to be a strong support for their family.
“Toxic masculinity is toxic terminology,” Barry told PsiPost. “We all need to stop using toxic terminology such as toxic masculinity because it is possible for these ideas to be internalized by men and boys and have a negative effect on them.” In some cases, men with serious mental health problems may engage in anti-social behaviour, so it is likely that toxic terminology in the media, schools, government and elsewhere – actually increases the likelihood of the behavior they are meant to reduce. Instead, it might help if we put more emphasis on the ways in which masculinity can have a positive impact on men and society.
Across all age groups, men generally agreed that their sense of masculinity was associated with feeling protective of women. However, the study found interesting generational differences in how masculinity affects violent attitudes toward women. Older men, more than their younger counterparts, disagreed with the idea that being a man “makes me prone to be violent towards women.” On average, men over the age of 60 generally disagreed with this proposition, while men under the age of 40 were significantly more likely to agree with it.
“Men who felt protective of women had higher mental well-being, while those who felt violent toward women had lower mental well-being,” Berry said. “I was surprised and saddened that younger men, under 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 of masculinity perpetuated in our culture in recent decades.
Although the study provides valuable insights, it is important to note its limitations. The cross-sectional nature of research means that while it can highlight correlations, it cannot definitively prove cause and effect.
“Correlation is not causation,” Barry said. “This is the case with many studies, but it’s worth pointing out that, for example, we can’t tell 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 further studies to investigate how different cultures and age groups perceive masculinity and its impact on mental well-being. Longitudinal studies, which follow the same individuals over time, could provide deeper insight into how perceptions of masculinity develop and affect men’s mental health throughout their lives.
“It’s not people’s fault that they think masculinity is bad, at the end of the day we all live in a stew of information created by policy-making organisations, governments, academia and the media, telling us in different ways that masculinity is a problem,” he added. Berry. . “However, the psychology profession needs to find a way out of this fog to be able to properly understand and deal with male psychology and men’s mental health.”
The study was titled, “Believing that masculinity negatively affects behavior is associated with reduced mental well-being.”
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