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5 August 2005
Overcompensation When Masculinity Is Questioned
by George Atkinson

Macho attitudes come to the fore if a man feels that his masculinity is being questioned or threatened. That's the intriguing result from a new study by Cornell University researcher Robb Willer who is presenting his findings at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting.

Willer's study was based around a gender identity survey completed by over one hundred male and female Cornell undergraduates last year. After the surveys were completed, Willer then provided the participants with feedback indicating whether they had a masculine or a feminine identity. This feedback on masculine or feminine identity, however, was purely fictional and randomly assigned, bearing no relation to the test. Interestingly, women's responses were unchanged regardless of the feedback they received, while men's reactions "were strongly affected by this feedback," said Willer.

"I found that if you made men more insecure about their masculinity, they displayed more homophobic attitudes, tended to support the Iraq war more and would be more willing to purchase an SUV over another type of vehicle," said Willer. "Masculine overcompensation is the idea that men who are insecure about their masculinity will behave in an extremely masculine way as compensation. I wanted to test this idea and also explore whether overcompensation could help explain some attitudes like support for war and animosity to homosexuals."

In a separate study, Willer verified that support for the Iraq War, homophobia and interest in purchasing an SUV were all considered masculine by study participants.

"Masculinity-threatened men also reported feeling more ashamed, guilty, upset and hostile than did masculinity-confirmed men," said Willer. "The masculine overcompensation thesis has its roots in Freudian psychology, but it has become a popularly accepted idea that I felt should be empirically tested and evaluated."

Willer is planning more masculinity related research, including subjects' attitudes regarding violence toward women, while using the same method for manipulating masculine insecurity. And in future studies, the subject's physiology may also be examined. "I'm planning another follow-up to the study that involves taking testosterone samples from participants to see if testosterone levels are a mediating factor in this process," he said.

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