Depression, violence risk higher in men with 'harmful masculinities'

"Harmful masculinities" can lead to more violence and depressive thoughts in men, a new study has found. Photo by Jesús Rodríguez/Unsplash
"Harmful masculinities" can lead to more violence and depressive thoughts in men, a new study has found. Photo by Jesús Rodríguez/Unsplash

Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Men who have more "harmful" attitudes about masculinity -- including views on violence and homophobia -- are more likely to engage in bullying and sexual harassment, according to a study published Wednesday by the journal Preventive Medicine.

These men are also more likely to have depression or suicidal thoughts, researchers said.


The findings are based on the "Man Box" scale, which was developed by Promundo-US, a non-profit that promotes gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls. The scale was created as a way to measure harmful norms and stereotypes about masculinity, the researchers said.

Men with higher scores on the scale were up to five times more likely to engage in verbal, online or physical bullying, as well as sexual harassment, researchers found.

Men with higher scores also were about twice as likely to experience depression or have thoughts of suicide.


"Higher scores are associated with men perpetrating harm on others and themselves," study co-author Robert W.S. Coulter, assistant professor of behavioral and community health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, told UPI.

Based on the new study, the scale "can be used to shape public health policies and programs designed to address harmful masculinities," said Coulter, who also is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the university's School of Medicine.

"Harmful masculinities" can be defined as potentially dangerous attitudes toward toughness, physical attractiveness, gender roles, sexuality and control, Coulter said.

The original, 15-point "Man Box" scale, which is designed to assess men for these attitudes and behaviors, developed out of the work writer, educator and activist Paul Kivel and his colleagues at the Oakland Men's Project in the 1980s.

He and his team created the "Act Like a Man Box" exercise as a way to discuss how society influences male behavior with the men in the program.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller and researchers at University of Pittsburgh developed a shorter version of the "Man Box" scale. Their version includes five items focused on gender roles, violence or aggression, sexual behavior or attitudes, emotional well-being and feelings regarding masculinity.


The shorter version is designed to help clinicians more efficiently monitor male patients' mental health, using the measures with the strongest associations with violence and poor mental health, the researchers said.

Men who strongly align with more harmful masculine gender norms have poorer health outcomes, such as depression and suicidal thoughts, according to the American Psychological Association. In addition, these men perpetrate violence against others at much higher rates, Coulter and his colleagues said.

For their research, Coulter and the team used 2016 data from more than 3,600 men aged 18 to 30 years from the United States, Mexico and Britain, who were evaluated using the shorter version of the "Man Box" Scale.

Men who scored higher on the four-point scale -- 3.0 or above -- were more than five times as likely to perpetrate violence or threaten violence on others and had a 73% higher risk for depressive symptoms, according to Coulter. They were also more than 150% more likely to experience suicidal thoughts.

The findings suggest that men who embrace stereotypical ideas about manhood are more likely to harm themselves and others, Coulter said.

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