Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Individual Differences in Masculine Gender Socialization as Predictive of Men's Psychophysiological Responses to Negative Affect

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Individual Differences in Masculine Gender Socialization as Predictive of Men's Psychophysiological Responses to Negative Affect

Article excerpt

We investigated a long-theorized relationship between individual differences in masculine gender socialization and avoidance of vulnerable negative affect. Participants were thirty-six men (faculty, staff, and students, M age = 21.40, age range 18 -30, SD = 3.00, 3% Hispanic, 11% Asian, 86% Caucasian) recruited from a small university in the Northeastern United States. Adherence to masculine norms was positively associated with participants' physiological fear/avoidant responses to a video of a man violating masculine gender norms by expressing vulnerable negative affect (crying, asking for help, showing affection for another man). Results suggest that masculine gender socialization may cause some men to be fearful of expressions of negative affect, potentially limiting some men's ability to experience and express their own negative affect.

Keywords: masculine gender socialization, adherence to hegemonic masculine norms, masculinity, negative affect, depression

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In this study we examined a theorized relationship between masculine gender socialization and negative affect. A number of researchers and clinicians have suggested that some men, as a function of masculine gender socialization, are taught to avoid expressions of negative affect (Cochran & Rabinowitz, 2000; Levant & Pollack, 1995). In turn, it has been suggested that this avoidance may be at the heart of a number of psychological health problems for men (increased suicide rates relative to women, substance abuse, "masked," "covert," and other non-typical expressions of depression symptoms) (Real, 1997). To investigate this relationship, we exposed men to video stimuli of expressions of negative affect and recorded increases and decreases in both positive and negative affect using self-report measures, as well as fear/avoidant responses using psychophysiological instruments. While this study focuses on men from the United States, the norms, socialization, and public health problems discussed are present in a number of other Western countries and cultures.

BACKGROUND

Over the last three decades researchers in the areas of psychopathology and gender have begun to explore the possibility that there are important individual differences among men in their expressions of psychological distress (Levant & Pollack, 1995; Mahalik, 2008; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987). In particular, men who adhere more strongly to traditional notions of masculinity such as physical toughness, emotional stoicism, and self-reliance may be more prone to externalizing rather than internalizing symptoms of distress (Cochran & Rabinowitz, 2000; Real, 1997). Empirical support for this idea has come from a number of different angles. For example, epidemiological research conducted in the United States shows that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than are women (Moscicki, 1997; Oquendo et al., 2001). Data collected from men in the United States also show that they are more likely to engage in violent behaviors, exhibit anger and irritability, and abuse substances (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 2007; United States Department of Justice, 1995-2007).

Many clinicians and researchers have argued that this relative increase in externalizing symptoms is due to masculine gender socialization. Specifically, emotion socialization is known to be a highly gendered process (Addis, 2008). When boys and men are taught to "tough it out", "keep a stiff upper lip", or otherwise control the experience and expression of softer emotions such as depressed mood, they may respond to these emotions with a variant of classical depression which includes both internalizing and externalizing symptoms. While much of the empirical research on this topic has been conducted using primarily samples of undergraduates in the United States, results from multiple studies show that for men in the United States, individual differences in adherence to traditional masculine gender norms are associated with depression symptoms (Good & Wood, 1995; Magovcevic & Addis, 2008) as well as anger (Eisler, 1995), substance abuse (Blazina & Watkins, 1996; Locke & Mahalik, 2005), irritability (Mahalik, et al. …

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