Understanding How to Prevent Male Violence: Investigating the Role of Threatened-masculinity Shame and Testing an Intervention

Kris T. Gebhard

Major Professor: Lauren B Cattaneo, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: June Tangney, Sarah Fischer

David King Hall, #2013
May 07, 2019, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


Male violence is a serious problem world-wide. In the United States, for instance, 98% of mass shooters since 1966 have been men, and men committed 89.5% of all homicides between 1980 and 2008 (Berkowitz et al., 2017; Cooper & Smith, 2011). The significant sex-based discrepancy in violent crime suggests that something about masculinity contributes to this pattern. In order to create effective prevention and intervention efforts, it is essential to better understand the psychology of male aggression. Experimental literature in psychology demonstrates a relationship between threat to masculinity and aggression, such that men may act out violently in response to feeling that they are not meeting gender role expectations. The author’s previous research suggested that shame may be a key component of this dynamic, and therefore potential target of intervention (Gebhard, Cattaneo, Tangney, Shor, and Hargrove, 2018). The present dissertation builds on those preliminary findings with two online experimental studies. Results from Study 1 indicate that men who behaved aggressively after experiencing threat to masculinity were those who felt ashamed about the threat. Results from Study 2 indicate that engaging in a brief self-affirmation intervention significantly reduced men’s vulnerability to feeling ashamed, and thus reduced their level of aggression after threat to masculinity. The results of the studies provide key building blocks to allow for future work shaping violence prevention and intervention efforts.