Why Male Psychology matters: an evolutionary perspective

by Dr Rebecca Owens & Dr Helen Driscoll, University of Sunderland, UK.

On August 30th 2018, there was a revolutionary step forward in psychology: 71.5% of voters supported the creation of a Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS). It is now one of 19 Sections of the BPS (as well as lots of Divisions, Groups etc), alongside the Psychology of Women and Equalities Section, established 30 years ago as the Psychology of Women Section.

In this article we discuss why the new Male Psychology section is so important, and explain the relevance of Male Psychology from an evolutionary perspective.


Why a Male Psychology Section matters

We hear a lot about male privilege – how men supposedly have a status in society which benefits them. Of course there are ways in which this is true, although there are also numerous ways in which society arguably favours women. Both sexes however face particular challenges, which require a gendered approach to effectively understand and address, and which necessitate investment in research. Some of the big issues facing men were discussed at the male psychology conference, and include high suicide rates, mental health issues, and domestic abuse. There is a lack of awareness of the extent to which these issues affect men, and this means that often men have no one who will listen to them and relatively little help or support.

Lack of awareness also means research and understanding is limited, impairing our ability to tackle these issues; the development of a Male Psychology Section is crucial to furthering our understanding of issues facing men.

We believe  ‘toxic masculinity’ is an unfair and unhelpful term. Whilst there are men who behave in ways that are harmful and some of these behaviours can be linked to some aspects of masculinity, to imply that masculinity is toxic is unfair to men, and deflects us from recognising the many positive aspects of masculinity. We hope that the development of a Male Psychology Section will facilitate research and understanding of the positive aspects of masculinity.


How evolutionary psychology can provide a framework for the study of male psychology

Evolutionary psychologists examine how the brain and behaviours of modern humans have been shaped by our evolutionary history. The environment in which we evolved was largely very stable, which is why we are adapted to it. Since the agricultural revolution, c10,000 years ago, the environment has been very unstable, changing rapidly. But physically and psychologically we have not changed a great deal because human reproduction is a slow process, and evolution is therefore slow too.

Many of the psychological differences between men and women are due to sex-specific selection pressures in our evolutionary history. This is because the keys to successful reproduction (and therefore passing on genes) were different for men and women. Men had the potential to successfully reproduce by acquiring multiple partners and offspring, whereas women, constrained by pregnancy and lactation, reproduced successfully by investing heavily in a smaller number of offspring. This fundamental difference between men and women has profound implications for psychological sex differences.

It is important to note that these evolved sex differences are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – there is no moral judgment on this, it just is.

To fully understand male psychology, we need to understand how the male brain and behaviour have been shaped by sex-specific selection pressures in the human ancestral environment. This does not need to be the focus of all research, but if all research is informed by this understanding, it will result in a more complete and accurate understanding of male psychology.

Many of the issues that affect men more than women are rooted in our evolutionary past – men are more inclined to take risks than women, which often have negative repercussions, such as substance abuse, homelessness and suicide (in contemporary environments). This is not to say that women cannot be affected by these issues – they are –  but on average, more men are affected by such issues than women.


We will blog more about the relevance of evolutionary psychology to Male Psychology in the next few weeks.


About the authors

Dr Becci Owens is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, a Chartered Psychologist, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is an evolutionary psychologist with a research focus on male psychology and mental health, sex differences in mating behaviours and mating strategies, and body image and modifications.
Email: rebecca.owens@sunderland.ac.uk ; Twitter: @DrBecciOwens

Dr Helen Driscoll is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland. She gained her BSc (Hons) Psychology degree from Newcastle University and PhD in Psychology from Durham University. Helen is a Chartered Psychologist and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her PhD examined sex differences in intrasexual aggression and intimate partner violence from an evolutionary perspective. Helen’s current research interests include sexual behaviour and sexuality, male psychology, dark personality and adult play.

Email: helen.driscoll@sunderland.ac.uk ; Twitter: @mirapiform




3 thoughts on “Why Male Psychology matters: an evolutionary perspective

  1. Reply
    AJ - September 5, 2018

    It is rather strange it has taken so long given there has been a psychology of women section for more than 30 years.

    Why has the POW section become the Psychology of Women and Equalities Section? Equalities and psychology of women seem almost completely disjoint it is not clear if the equalities interest is related to psychology at all as opposed to perceived or actual inequalities within the BPS and in any case many potential inequalities are nothing to do with women specifically or even sex/gender. This seems a very odd step. If inequalities are an issue then they deserve to be addressed in a focussed way concerns about the way the organisation functions are surely different in nature to research and concerns relating to psychology itself. According to a BPS report by Hannah Farndon 80% of psychologists in the UK are female so any concern about gender balance or inequality should focus on what can be done to support and encourage men. This change in focus and name seems bizarre against this context.

    Lastly, in looking at the sections it seems there is a fault on the website I can’t review any of the section pages unless I use google cache data to look at old data.

  2. Reply

    […] A version of this blog has previously been posted on the Male Psychology Network blog here. […]

  3. Reply
    Stan Rains - December 27, 2018

    The difference in addressing concerns of most men from that of women, is that the approach to helping women is to let them talk incessantly until the issues resolve. The very base assumptions and directions of psychology appear to have been bent to those who are willing to create the long term income (and interaction) with psychologists, women.

    Men will walk away where solutions or alternative options are not offered in what each man would consider timely. Men have a need to ‘fix’ problems whether mechanical, physical, economic, or emotional. They will often see no benefit where no solutions are offered after the initial presentment of the problem and reasonable time for the psychologists fact finding (number of visits?). Men will determine that the assistance of psychology has no solution to their problem and will turn away in the face of the psychologists continued desires to have the men continue to repeat the litany surrounding the problem.

    Psychology has turned away from men. I have been following the lack of funding, grants, publications in suicidology.org for 18 years. I have seen greater funding for statistically tiny groups of humans being studied for suicide while men, the single largest demographic of suicides by a factor 5 above the next highest demographic, receive no or very few resources from the greatest central professional organization for the study and prevention of suicide.

    To address a positive direction in the article, the evolutionary success of men has and is the male’s ability to adapt and overcome (fix) in every area of human physical existence to attract and keep mates. The acceptance of gender based evolutionary differences is a politically charged issue in today’s environment of correctness and revisionism to support the correctness.

    A central reason for the rejection of current feminized psychology by men is problems are not quickly evaluated, all known options reviewed, and solutions timely provided. Time is a critical factor for men. Delays beyond a reasonable evaluation period imply either no solution options or other agendas where solutions are withheld, such as for continued income for the psychologist; an ideological bent to the psychologist’s therapy directions; or as an ‘information is power’ play as is found in many offices and professions where information helpful to others is unnecessarily withheld. “Information is power” is a common bit of gamesmanship of which most competent males and professional females are very aware.

    Seeing an area of study opening up for a demographic that encompasses half of humanity (give or take a couple of points) is encouraging that there is at least a discussion beginning.

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