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The Male Psychology undergraduate module – a first for the UK and the world

by Dr Becci Owens

Male psychology is a recent development in academia, having first being proposed by UK consultant clinical psychologist Martin Seager in 2010. Male Psychology values any perspectives – including biological factors – that can help in the understanding of the psychology of men and boys. In fact one of the topics of interest in Male Psychology is the question of why it is such an under researched area. (Spoiler alert – we believe that a cognitive distortion called gamma bias plays a role. You will learn more about this on the module).

Although several universities run men’s studies modules, these tend to magnify social-constructionist explanations of behaviour, and mostly minimise the importance of biological, genetic and evolutionary influences. Also men’s studies, like gender studies (which mostly focuses on women), takes a relatively negative view of masculinity. In contrast Male Psychology takes the pragmatic view that there is much more to be gained by harnessing the positive aspects of masculininty.

The really exciting news is that this week I give our stage two students at the University of Sunderland the chance to study the first – to my knowledge – Male Psychology undergraduate module, at stage three.

In this new module, we will consider sex differences in evolved cognitive architecture which provides a basic ‘template’ with which men and women develop and interact with their environment. This predisposes men and women to experience many things differently, and embody these differences in ways that are dismissed as some people as stereotypes, or recognised by others as archetypes (Seager, 2019).

The module will also explore the concept of masculinity from cross-cultural and comparative perspectives, and challenge the fashionable notion that masculinity is inherently toxic. We will also examine sex differences in the experience of trauma, and sex differences in how trauma is managed. For example, women are more likely to internalise trauma, experiencing anxiety and depression, whereas men are more likely to externalise trauma, developing difficulties with inhibition control leading to risk taking behaviours.

This module will consider the impact of gender roles and stereotyping in mental health. For example, if we see men as interested only in uncommitted sexual relations, how much empathy do we have when it comes to the long-term mental health impact of involuntary childlessness on men? Also, if we see men as dominant, aggressive, assertive and power-seeking, but how does this stereotype impact the way we view male victims of intimate partner violence?

The core textbooks for the module include the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health, and a forthcoming textbook Perspectives in Male Psychology (published by Wiley). The Palgrave Handbook consists of 32 chapters from the leading academics and practitioners in Male Psychology from around the world. Our stage three students will begin a critical introduction to male psychology, including guest lectures from members of the Male Psychology Section of the BPS, and authors of the Handbook of Male Psychology.

I hope that this module will be useful not only in bring new light to how we understand the psychology of men and boys, but will inform a new generation of psychologists in ways that will be of practical and theoretical value no matter what their main area of interest is. For example, those who are interested in mental health will find insights from male psychology invaluable, as will those interested in health, sports, crime, child psychology, education, and the workplace.

Male Psychology is a brand new and rapidly expanding field, and I look forward to welcoming new students to this subject.


About the author

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.
Becci’s chapter in the Handbook of Male Psychology was published recently: Barry JA and Owens B (2019). From fetuses to boys to men: the impact of testosterone on male lifespan development, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1
Email: ; Twitter: @DrBecciOwens
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