The Man Code – Study Results
Back in September, I helped sponsor a study on male psychology with a researcher from the University of Florida. The study was simple. It asked men if they had ever felt pressured to follow some sort of “guy code” in their lives by other men. If so, what was a prominent example from their life about this “guy code” and what consequences did following it or not following it have on them?
Well the results are in, and the researcher sent me a summary of the findings. I must say, first of all, it’s cool to have my site be part of a legit academic study. And secondly, it’s awesome because the study returned results that support many of the themes I write about here.
But first, some raw data:
- 264 total participants
- Mostly straight, white men
- Ages 18-64
- 63% from US; 37% other countries
- Various levels of education, socio-economic status, and careers
- Some fraternity membership, mostly not
- 30% of men in a relationship, 70% single
After collecting everyone’s answers and stories, they codified it into measurable data. They were then able to measure commonalities and trends across all of the personal stories. They came back with four interesting conclusions:
1. 97.7% of men said they believe there is an unspoken man code or guy code or bro code between men. In fact, 53% of men described specific incidents from their lives in which they felt pressured to follow such a code. Statistically speaking, this is an incredibly high amount of the population.
My comments: I’m sure sample selection had a lot to do with this. Much of the sample was taken from this website, which probably has men with a higher-than-average cognizance of masculinity and male social issues. But still, statistically speaking, 97.7% is obscenely high.
2. Surprisingly, following the man code more often led to negative results than not following it. This result was true for both internally-generated consequences (such as guilt or satisfaction) as well as externally-generated results (such as rejection or praise). Why follow a social code that produces more perceived costs than benefits?
My comments: This is by far the most interesting result and a result which I think, studied further, could have some major implications on research on men and masculinity. The researcher speculated about how people sometimes continue to hold irrational beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. My take on this is actually a bit more pragmatic.
I’ve been working with men and their emotional issues for over five years now. And in that time, I’ve seen repeatedly how people with low self esteem and/or high levels of anxiety over-estimate the costs of performing a behavior which goes against social expectations. An obvious example: being rejected by a cute girl. Most men with low self esteem and high anxiety expect this to be an excruciating experience. But once they actually experience it, almost all of them realize it’s not nearly as bad as they expected.
The researcher questions why men continue to follow the man code when the consequences of following it tend to bring worse results than not following it. My answer is that people below a certain threshold of self esteem will perceive the short-term cost of breaking with social expectations to be far greater than they actually are. It isn’t until afterward that they realize that they’re actually worse off for following the man code. But even then, their continued lack of self esteem and high anxiety prevents them from properly gauging the next social situation which may require them to break the traditional expectations of masculinity.
This ties in to another theory I’m kind of cooking up at the moment: that traditional masculine roles, by their very nature, reinforce feelings of anxiety and low self worth, and that the best way to break these imprisoning gender roles is by building of the self esteem and emotional autonomy of men to behave in a more self-directed and authentic manner. This is what the new book will largely cover.
3. Statistically, most examples of man code were described in relation to heterosexual romantic situations with women. In other words, where the man code seems to be most prevalent and common is when a girl is involved. And not only when the girl is involved, but in valuing the platonic relationship with the other man more than the romantic relationship with the woman. Also, the researcher notes that these situations produced the greatest amount of internal and external consequences — i.e., these experiences had the greatest charge to them (again, a possible reflection of this site’s readership.)
4. Analysis suggests that the greatest frequency of positive consequences occur when a man acts authentically. This is the part that supports much of what I’ve been writing about, that when men chose to act authentically — open honesty, congruence to one’s emotions — they experienced more positive consequences than negative consequences (and by the way, authentic communication has been tied to all sorts of positive results by many psychological researchers, not just this one).
All in all, the results are encouraging for what we’re doing here. I told the researcher to let me know if/when the study is published in any journals. It would be a cool first for the site and a little bit of a new direction for the (sorely lacking) research on masculinity out there.