Be a Man: How Macho Image Affects Men's Behavior

Male discrepancy stress may increase violence, risky behaviors among men

It turns out that those leather-clad, gun-slinging action movie heroes may be sending the wrong messages to men.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that male self-image may affect behavior and the propensity for violence.

Both "macho" men and men who see themselves as falling short of traditional masculine norms may be more prone to violence, risky behavior and substance abuse than men with positive self-image.

"These data suggest that efforts to reduce men's risk of behavior likely to result in injury should, in part, focus on the means by which masculine socialization and acceptance of gender norms may induce distress in boys and men," wrote lead study author Dennis E. Reidy PhD, a behavioral scientist at the CDC, and colleagues.

Dr. Reidy and team looked at the responses of 600 men to a 2012 online survey. All participants were between ages 18 and 55.

This study was geared specifically toward exploring how men perceive male gender and how self-image may affect those views.

The men fell into two major groups: men who saw themselves as different from the traditional masculine norm but were comfortable with their self-image, and men who saw themselves as falling short of the male norm and felt that others also saw them that way.

Dr. Reidy and team called the latter male discrepancy stress (MDS).

The difference between how men see themselves compared to society's expectations can lead to "acting out" in stereotypical ways to prove masculinity.

According to Dr. Reidy and team, men are known to be more likely to engage in risky behaviors like substance abuse, reckless driving or acts of aggression than women. Highly masculine men tend to be the most at risk.

Past research has also found that teen boys who experience MDS are more likely to commit sexual violence.

The men in this study who experienced MDS were more likely to say they had committed violent assaults with a weapon that resulted in injury.

No connection was found between between MDS and the use of alcohol or drugs.

This study was published in the August issue of the journal Injury Prevention.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.