Male identity: an island no man wants to visit

John Barry, Male Psychology Network

The phenomenon of ingroup favouritism and outgroup bias is a cornerstone of social psychology. The strength of such biases vary by group e.g. it is well-established that higher-status groups invoke more ingroup bias (e.g. Nosek et al, 2002). Men in general (historically and cross-culturally) have higher status than women in the public realm (politics, finance etc), so one would expect that male identity invokes a high level of ingroup bias. However research shows that – uniquely in social identity theory – male identity, unlike female identity, invokes no significant ingroup bias (e.g. Richeson & Ambady, 2001).

Men support each other effectively when the identity is based on something other than being male (e.g. football teams), but how do we explain the incohesive effect of male identity? There are several possibilities. For example, it could be that because infant attachment mostly happens with women (mothers), this programmes for greater bias towards women in later life (Rudman, 2004). Similarly, it could be that men are stereotypically more associated with violence and aggression, thus invoke less sympathy (Rudman & Goodman, 2004). Or it could be that on an evolutionary level, males are seen as the providers of protection, not the recipients of protection (Seager et al, 2016).

There are wide-ranging implications for men’s wellbeing.  For example, although men commit suicide at three times the rate that women do (ONS, 2015), there is little attempt to understand why nor to reduce this problem.  These issues will be critically discussed in our symposium.

The subject of identity will be discussed at a symposium UCL on 29th June, 9 am – 5pm. Male Identity will be presented as a poster presentation. 


Nosek, B. A., Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2002a). Harvesting

implicit group attitudes and beliefs from a demonstration Web site.

Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 6, 101–115.

Richeson, J. A., & Ambady, N. (2001). Who’s in charge? Effects of

situational roles on automatic gender bias. Sex Roles, 44, 493–512.

Rudman, L. A. (2004). Sources of implicit attitudes. Current Directions in

Psychological Science, 13, 80–83.

Seager, M., Farrell, W. & Barry, J.A. (2016). The Male Gender Empathy Gap: Time for psychology to take action. New Male Studies5(2), 6-16.

About the author

Dr John Barry is a psychologist researching Male Psychology

9 thoughts on “Male identity: an island no man wants to visit

  1. Reply
    Dave DuBay - March 6, 2017

    That’s really interesting. One question is: Is this lack of male ingroup bias cross-cultural?

    And what role does male disposability play?

    In the book “Man Interrupted,” Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Coulombe quote a soldier’s description of the male gender role: “Men’s friendships among peers in competitive atmospheres are based on what abilities they bring to the group; remembering that their life is devalued but their skillsets are not. Showing concern means that you question their ability.”

  2. Reply
    John Barry - March 6, 2017

    Hi Dave. Thanks for your input. That’s a very interesting question regarding how generalisable the research findings are. I would predict that – based on evolutionary pressures (see below) – you would find weak ingroup favouritism in male identity across cultures, though this might be moderated by how individualistic vs collectivist the culture is. The reason I would predict this relates to your second question: it makes sense in evolutionary terms that men are more expendable than women. To put it crudely, a population can thrive with one man and 100 women, but might die off with one woman and 100 men. We make the case in a less crude way here

    1. Reply
      Josefine - June 25, 2020

      Humans are a social species. Human children take a long time to grow up. “Women are better parents than men” is a gender stereotype – so let’s question it. Let’s assume that men are -due to evolutionary pressure- as capable of child care as women and are needed for raising the offspring, too. Stereotypes are self-fulfilling. Women who consider men less capable cause men to consider themselves less competent, too.

      1. John Barry
        John Barry - June 28, 2020

        Thanks for your comment Josefine. I think it’s fair to say that men and women generally do parenting slightly differently rather than one being a “better parent” than the other. Men are said to do more ‘generative’ parenting, focusing on things like the child’s positive social growth, whereas mothering is more about meeting emotional and physical needs. I don’t think these are ‘stereotypes’ as much as the result of evolutionary forces.

        1. Reply
          Josefine - June 30, 2020

          Hello! Thx for the response. Shouldn’t a hypothesis like this be critically examined? What would be the evolutionary value? Particularly in the context of social psychological findings in the field of social identity and the effects of stereotyping. I’m looking for publications on the effects of stereotypes on men and am astonished that that there’s not much to find. So far, I’ve found only a few studies on the effects of stereotype threat on men, male students and male pink-collar workers, one study on “male stigma”… Why the research gap – even in male studies / male psychology?

          1. John Barry
            John Barry - July 1, 2020

            There is lots of evidence that men and women parent differently e.g. this meta-analysis

            In my opinion the influence of social factors on gendered behaviour is very overestimated, partly because of being overhyped in the media and studies that don’t find supporting evidence are less likely to be published in social science journals (publication bias)

            On the other hand there is lots of evidence of the impact of biology. Chapter 1 here presents evidence if the impact of testosterone on psychology and behaviour. The book is expensive but if your library doesn’t stock it you can ask them to do so

  3. Reply
    Dave DuBay - March 7, 2017

    Thanks for the response and the article

    1. Reply
      Josefine - July 5, 2020

      E.g. parenthood is a less effective protective factor for men than for women in preventing them from commiting suicide. Being a mother is accompanied by a higher feeling of connection than being a father. The feeling of attachment is a crucial protective factor against suicide.

      [Schrijvers, D. L., Bollen, J., & Sabbe, B. G. C. (2012). The gender paradox in suicidal behavior and its impact on the suicidal process. Journal of affective disorders, 138(1-2), 19–26]
      [Payne Sarah, Swami Viren, and Stanistreet Debbi L.. Journal of Men’s Health. November 2013, 5(1): 23-35.]

      Not just coincidentally chronic stereotype threat can lead to disidentification and undermine individuals sense of belonging, affecting their motivation and making them more likely to withdraw from the setting.

      [Spencer, Logel, Davies (2016): Stereotype Threat. In: Annual Review of Psychology, 67(1), S. 415-437]

      I think it’s kind of negligent not to research the effect of stereotype threat on fathers (men facing women’s expectations of being the less competent parent).

      1. John Barry
        John Barry - July 11, 2020

        This sounds like a good topic to research, but the concept of stereotype threat has been discredited somewhat. For example, there has been a massive amount of hype about the impact of stereotype threat on mathematics performance of girls, but good quality research has found pretty much no evidence for this effect. So why would a researcher dedicate time and money there? There are other more obvious reasons why men might become distressed or suicidal when separated from their children (and in fact I am already doing research on this topic).

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