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Physiological stress response to loss of social influence and threats to masculinity

Catherine J. Taylor

Social Science & Medicine, 2014, vol. 103, issue C, 51-59

Abstract: Social influence is an important component of contemporary conceptualizations of masculinity in the U.S. Men who fail to achieve masculinity by maintaining social influence in the presence of other men may be at risk of stigmatization. As such, men should be especially likely to exhibit a stress response to loss of social influence in the presence of other men. This study assesses whether men who lose social influence exhibit more of a stress response than men who gain social influence, using data collected in a laboratory setting where participants were randomly assigned into four-person groups of varying sex compositions. The groups were videotaped working on two problem-solving tasks. Independent raters assessed change in social influence using a well-validated measure borrowed from experimental work in the Status Characteristics Theory tradition. Cortisol is used as a measure of stress response because it is known to increase in response to loss of social esteem. Results show that young men who lose social influence while working with other young men exhibit cortisol response. In contrast women do not exhibit cortisol response to loss of social influence, nor do men working with women. Results are consistent with the hypothesis that loss of social influence in men may be associated with a physiological stress response because maintaining social influence is very important to men while in the presence of other men. This physiological response to loss of social influence underscores the importance to men of achieving masculinity through gaining and maintaining social influence, and avoiding the stigma associated with the failure to do so.

Keywords: Gender; Masculinity; Status characteristics theory; Stigma; Cortisol; Social influence; Social psychology; Stress (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014
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