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Study: Acting tough may be bad for men's health

Men who thought they should act tough and self-reliant had worse outcomes in two studies, but researchers note women who thought the same way also fared worse.
By Stephen Feller   |   March 23, 2016 at 3:50 PM

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., March 23 (UPI) -- Men may die earlier than women in part because they lie to doctors about symptoms, if they go to the doctor at all, because they want to be tough, researchers suggest in two recent studies.

Researchers at Rutgers University found in a two studies that men are less likely to go to the doctor and are less likely to be honest, often resulting in missed or never diagnosed conditions.

Men's life expectancy, and years of active life, have increased in the last couple of decades, but they still live shorter lives than women.

Men who believe they must act tough, brave and restrained in all situations tend to put off dealing with medical problems more than men with less traditional beliefs about how they should act.

More traditional men also pick male doctors because they think they are more competent, but still resist being honest about health symptoms. At the same time, the men with less traditional views of masculinity are more likely to pick female doctors, with whom they're more honest about symptoms.

"The question that we wanted to answer was, why do men die earlier than women?" Diana Sanchez, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University, said in a press release. "Men can expect to die five years earlier than women, and physiological differences don't explain that difference."

For the study published in the journal Preventive Medicine, 250 men completed an online questionnaire about manhood, attributes of men and women, and doctor preference. Researchers found the higher they scored, the more likely they were to prefer a male doctor.

In a second part of the same study, the researchers recruited another 250 participants to answer a similar questionnaire before being interviewed by male and female pre-medical and nursing students about their medical conditions. Among these participants, the higher their score on the masculinity scale, the less likely they were to openly discuss symptoms and conditions with male interviewers.

In the second study, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, the researchers interviewed 193 college students and 298 members of the general population. Researchers found the more strongly men held traditional views of masculinity, the less likely they were to seek medical help, more likely to play down symptoms and had worse health outcomes than women as a result.

Women who thought they should act brave, strong or self-reliant were found to do the same thing as men holding the traditional views, however, which results said suggests self-reliance may "be dangerous to one's health, regardless of gender."

"It's worse for men, however," said Mary Himmelstein, a doctoral student at Rutgers. "Men have a cultural script that tells them they should be brave, self-reliant and tough. Women don't have that script, so there isn't any cultural message telling them that, to be real women, they should not make too much of illnesses and symptoms."

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