Go Ahead! Get Manly!

Study shows that being a T-man doesn’t make you more likely to suffer from psychological distress which contradicts what has been forced down our throats by the metro-sexual media for nearly the last 40 years.

June 17, 2004 – The strong-but-silent type can breathe a loud sigh of relief. New research suggests that “manly” men who withhold their feelings and emotions but not their tough, competitive nature may not be as vulnerable to physical and psychological problems as previously believed.

For long, these macho men were considered to be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and heart problems than guys who are more open with their emotions. But in a new study, researchers find virtually no connection between psychological distress and traditional stoic, win-at-all costs male behaviors.

“Our results differ not only from popular opinion, but from a number of other research studies - including some that I’ve done,” says study researcher Glenn Good, PhD, a University of Missouri psychologist who has long studied male behavior.

“The general consensus has long been, the more macho you are, the more likely you are to experience psychological distress and other health problems,” he tells WebMD. “The going theory is that healthy people experience a wide range of emotions. But when ‘manly’ men learn to restrict their expression of emotions, or are overly competitive, it produces stress.”

Virtually No Connection Found

In his study, which will be published next month in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, Good and colleagues gave five different assessment tests to 260 male undergraduate college students. The tests gauged their opinions about the masculine role, their competitiveness, problem-solving methods and skills, openness in discussing problems and sharing feelings, and other issues. Their likelihood of having a psychological disorder was also assessed.

When the math was completed, Good’s team noted that less than 1% of the students’ psychological distress could be attributed to behaviors of what he calls the “traditional” masculine role.

“It certainly doesn’t coincide with previous research, so it’s hard to know what it means,” says Good. “It could mean that there is no one right way to be a man. Or it could be the Homer Simpson phenomenon, in which Homer says he’s not too worried about his emotions or behavior. But that’s not to say that Marge is happy about it.”

In previous studies, alpha males have led the pack in certain health problems. The association of a hostile, overly aggressive Type A personality to heart disease is well-documented, and macho men have often been seen as the poster boys for alcohol, tobacco, and drug abuse. “And in other studies, if you put these more traditional guys in experiments to perform a task that a woman does better, their blood pressure shot up because they were so competitive,” says Good. “It really angered them that they would lose to a woman.”

Anger and Sex

That may be because traditional males hate to lose anything – especially control, says another researcher who has studied what angers men and women. And her findings, published last year in the same journal as Good’s work, may help explain the long history between men’s anger-internalizing behavior and health problems.

“When we interviewed men about what makes them angry, the absolute biggie was control,” says psychologist Sandra Thomas, PhD, RN, of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“They need to be in control of their emotions and in control of what’s happening around them. And when they’re not, they feel very guilty about it. You wouldn’t believe the stories we heard about men getting angry because they couldn’t fix their computers or cars,” she tells WebMD. “By comparison, women’s anger stories were almost exclusively about problems they had in their most intimate relationships, the people they love. Men almost never told stories about people they love.”