The relationship between gender, anger, and violence is more complex than people realize, and common beliefs (e.g., men are angrier than women) often end up being untrue when we look closely at the research. What’s not nearly as complicated, though, is the relationship between masculinity and anger and aggression. (Listen here for more.)
Ryan Martin Ph.D. is an anger researcher and the Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He received his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi where he first started studying anger. He teaches courses in mental illness, emotion, and research methods. As a researcher, he explores many different facets of the anger experience including the types of thoughts people have when they are angry, the consequences of problematic anger, and, most recently, how people express their anger online.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Here are five things we know:
1. Masculinity is associated with anger.
In a 2014 study from the University of South Australia, Michelle Wharton and colleagues looked at the relationship between masculinity and anger arousal. Specifically, they had participants complete a series of questionnaires related to gender roles and anger in which they found that gender role identity, but not biological sex, explains anger differences. In other words, it was masculine participants who reported greater anger than feminine participants did, and not simply that males were angrier than females. In fact, females who had a more masculine gender identity were angrier than females with a more feminine gender identity.
2. When men’s masculinity is threatened, they react with increased anger.
A 2015 study by Julia Dahl and colleagues from Penn State University found that when masculinity was challenged, men reacted with more anger and with an increased endorsement of social dominance over women. Basically, they asked men to take a test on gender knowledge with questions about stereotypically masculine or feminine content. Half of the participants were told — whether it was true or not — that they scored more like the average woman than like the average man. They then completed a series of questionnaires on anger and other beliefs. Men who had had their masculinity threatened were angrier, more scared of having their scores made public, and endorsed a greater desire for social dominance over women.
3. Challenging men’s testosterone levels yields a similar effect.
Similar findings come from a 2016 study from the University of Gdansk, where Kosakowska-Berezecka and colleagues found that telling men they have low levels of testosterone served as a threat to masculinity and led to engagement in more “gender stereotypical behaviors,” like getting into physical fights. Meanwhile, men who were told they had high testosterone levels were more likely to support gender equality and more likely to engage in stereotypically feminine behaviors, like caretaking or doing housework.
4. Masculinity is also related to right-wing authoritarian attitudes.
According to a 2014 study from Bradley Goodnight and colleagues at Georgia State University, different dimensions of masculinity are predictive of right-wing authoritarian attitudes and anti-gay anger. Three dimensions, in particular, were relevant — status (a belief that men should be respected and project an air of confidence), toughness (a belief that men should be physically tough and aggressive), and anti-femininity (a belief that men should avoid stereotypically feminine activities). All three were correlated with right-wing authoritarianism, sexual prejudice, and anti-gay aggression.
5. "Dormant masculinity" becomes visible when men get drunk.
Finally, a 2015 study from Rushelle Leone and colleagues at Georgia State University asked men to complete a series of questionnaires on topics related to male norms. They were then randomly assigned to consume alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages before completing an aggression paradigm in which they administered or received electric shocks to/from a fictitious opponent. Participants who valued toughness and had anti-feminine attitudes were more aggressive toward their opponent when they were (a) intoxicated and (b) believed their opponent was gay because of information they had received about him earlier. The authors describe this as “dormant masculinity.”