Apparently, size does matter — just not in the way that you'd expect. According to a new study about perceptions of masculinity, men who were experiencing feelings of inadequacy in regards to their masculinity were more likely to lie about things like their height, level of aggression, athleticism, and past relationships.
The research, conducted by an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington, aimed to study how men responded when their masculinity was threatened. The subjects of the experiment were male students at Stanford University, who were told they were participating in research on how exertion impacts decision-making. The researchers asked them to squeeze a "handheld device," and then marked their scores on sheets that showed them falsified "typical" results for males and females.
To trick them into questioning their masculinity, participants were scored either in the middle of the female or the male curve, suggesting that their grip was either weak or average. The men then filled out a questionnaire asking about their height, number of previous relationships, and other various personality traits. Surprisingly, researchers found that the most commonly exaggerated trait was height, despite the fact that in reality, it's a fixed number.
"We know that being seen as masculine is very important for a lot of men," said Associate Professor Cheryan. "We discovered that the things that men were using to assert their masculinity were the very things that are used as signals of identity."
It makes sense why men would lie about their height: There seems to be an unwritten rule that taller men are somehow "sexier" or "more masculine." Of course, that's total B.S. — you don't have to be tall to be manly. Regardless, this study makes it clear that men will go to extreme lengths to prove they're tough or masculine. Besides blatantly lying about their height, here are four other ways that men overcompensate when they feel their manliness is being called into question:
1. Picking A Fight
What better way to prove that you're a macho man than by punching someone in the face? It may seem primal, but getting into a physical altercation may help a guy improve his sense of self-worth if he'd previously been feeling less-than-manly. Using data from their Emotional Intelligence Test, PsychTests.com found that people who are more argumentative tend to have lower self-esteem — so if a guy places a lot of value in coming off as masculine, he might pick fights and point out the flaws in others in order to feel better about his own shortcomings.
2. Hitting The Gym
According to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology, people with low self-confidence found that it improved by exercising. Since perceived manliness is so often a source of confidence for men, it's only natural that lifting weights might be the perfect solution to masculinity-related confidence issues. Being physically fit and muscular is perhaps the most defining trait of traditional notions of masculinity, so it makes total sense that a guy would become a gym rat in order to improve upon his sense of manhood.
3. Showing Off His S.O.
Even though women should never be treated like trophies or prizes, there are still a lot of good reasons to show off someone that you're proud to call bae. A 2013 study of 64 men and 75 women found that men like to show off their significant others, because they "believed that their social status and desirability would be improved among their peers." Thus, flaunting your partner may help increase your sense of masculinity — having an attractive partner is a sign of higher social status, which is closely tied to perceptions of masculinity. If you're attractive or manly or whatever enough to keep the attention of someone so wonderful, then you must be great by proxy.
4. Cracking Jokes
For a lot of people, humor is a defense mechanism that helps us cope in situations that are uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing. If a man feels his masculinity is being called into question, cracking a joke is a typical way to deflect from a situation where he might feel devalued or emasculated. A 2009 study from the University of Western Ontario found that higher levels of "affiliative humor" predicted higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression. In addition to being an ego boost, having a good sense of humor and being the focal point of a social group is can improve self-perceptions of masculinity — you're a leader, and what's more masculine than being in charge?
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