Science News
from research organizations

Men Overcompensate When Masculinity Is Threatened

August 3, 2005
Cornell University
Threaten a man's masculinity, and his attitudes will become more macho, according to a study by Robb Willer, a Cornell Ph.D. candidate in sociology. Willer will present his research at the American Sociological Association meeting Aug. 15 in Philadelphia.


ITHACA, N.Y. -- Threaten a man's masculinity, and he will assumemore macho attitudes, according to a study by a Cornell Universityresearcher.

"I found that if you made men more insecure about theirmasculinity, they displayed more homophobic attitudes, tended tosupport the Iraq war more and would be more willing to purchase an SUVover another type of vehicle," said Robb Willer, a sociology doctoralcandidate at Cornell. Willer is presenting his findings Aug. 15 at theAmerican Sociological Association's 100th annual meeting inPhiladelphia.

"Masculine overcompensation is the idea that men who areinsecure about their masculinity will behave in an extremely masculineway as compensation. I wanted to test this idea and also explorewhether overcompensation could help explain some attitudes like supportfor war and animosity to homosexuals," Willer said.

Willer administered a gender identity survey to a sample ofmale and female Cornell undergraduates in the fall of 2004.Participants were randomly assigned to receive feedback that theirresponses indicated either a masculine or a feminine identity. Whilewomen's responses were unchanged regardless of the feedback theyreceived, men's reactions "were strongly affected by this feedback,"Willer said.

"Masculinity-threatened men also reported feeling moreashamed, guilty, upset and hostile than did masculinity-confirmed men,"states Willer's report, "Overdoing Gender: Testing the MasculineOvercompensation Thesis."

"The masculine overcompensation thesis has its roots inFreudian psychology, but it has become a popularly accepted idea that Ifelt should be empirically tested and evaluated," Willer said.

He questioned subjects about their political attitudes,including how they felt about a same-sex marriage ban and their supportfor President Bush's handling of the Iraq war.


"I created composites from subjects' answers to these and otherquestions," he said. "I also gave subjects a car-buying vignette,presented as part of a study of purchasing a new car."

Masculinity-threatened participants also showed more interestin buying an SUV. "There were no increases for other types of cars,"Willer said.

The study produced "the predicted results," he said. "Theintention of the study was to explore whether masculineovercompensation exists and where. But the point isn't to suggest theseare the only factors that can explain these behaviors. Likewise, theremay be a wide variety of other behaviors that could increase when menare concerned about their levels of masculinity."

In a separate study, Willer verified that support for the IraqWar, homophobia and interest in purchasing an SUV were all consideredmasculine by study participants.

Willer said he and a colleague are planning additional researchon subjects' attitudes regarding violence toward women, using the samemethod for manipulating masculine insecurity.

"I'm planning another follow-up to the study that involvestaking testosterone samples from participants to see if testosteronelevels are a mediating factor in this process," he added.

The research involved 111 Cornell undergraduates and was funded by the Department of Sociology at Cornell.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Men Overcompensate When Masculinity Is Threatened." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2005. <>.
Cornell University. (2005, August 3). Men Overcompensate When Masculinity Is Threatened. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 2, 2023 from
Cornell University. "Men Overcompensate When Masculinity Is Threatened." ScienceDaily. (accessed October 2, 2023).

Explore More
from ScienceDaily