Effects of Masculine Gender Role Stress and Pre-arousal on Men's Cognitive, Affective, and Physiological Responses to Intimate Conflict Situations

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Virginia Tech

Previous research has indicated that the Masculine Gender Role Stress (MGRS) scale has been useful in identifying men who are susceptible to appraising threat in situations that challenge their masculine gender roles. Furthermore, Zillmann's excitation-transfer theory has proposed that elevated levels of physiological reactivity may interfere with men's appraisal processes and ability to control their emotions and behavior. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to examine the independent and combined effects of men's appraisal of threat and physiological pre-arousal on cognitive, affective, behavioral, and physiological responses to masculine relevant female partner behavior that challenges masculinity.

Eighty college men who scored high or low on the MGRS were exposed to cold or room temperature water to induce the arousal or non-arousal conditions, respectively, prior to exposure to vignettes. They then listened to audio-taped vignettes of hypothetical situations involving dating partners who threatened the male's masculinity in the relationship in either masculine gender relevant or irrelevant contexts. Skin conductance level (SCL) and heart rate (HR) were obtained before, during, and after exposure to arousal or non-arousal conditions and each vignette. Measures of anger, negative affect, and appraisal were obtained in response to the different arousal conditions. Cognitive attributions, anger, negative affect, and verbal conflict tactics were obtained in response to each vignette.

Results showed that the arousal condition produced greater HR than did the non-arousal condition. High MGRS men reported more negative affect and more negative appraisal in the arousal condition than in the non-arousal condition compared to low MGRS men. In response to the vignettes, high MGRS men reported more state anger, negative intent attributions, and verbal aggression tactics than did low MGRS men. Results also showed that gender irrelevant vignettes produced greater HR in the arousal condition than in the non-arousal condition. Finally, relative to high MGRS men, low MGRS men evidenced greater SCL during both arousal conditions and vignettes. However, results did not support an expected relationship between the effects of MGRS and pre-arousal on cognitive, affective, and physiological responses to gender relevant threats. Implications of these results for future research were discussed.

Reactivity, Aggression, Attributions, Masculinity