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New Research Summary: How do social, biological, and psychological factors lead to violence in men?

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We sat down with Conor O'Dea (Union College) to talk about his new article published in our flagship journal, The Psychology of Men and Masculinities. O'Dea and collaborators Elliot Jardin and Don Saucier explored how social, biological, and psychological factors combine to produce aggression in men. Their Masculinity-based model of Aggressive Retaliation in Society (MARS) helps to explain the basis of retaliatory aggression and may be useful in furthering our understanding of extreme manifestations of aggression, such as mass shootings and violence. We encourage you all to check it out!

O'Dea, C. J., Jardin, E., & Saucier, D. A. (2022). The masculinity-based model of Aggressive Retaliation in Society (MARS). Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 23(2), 160–172.

What were the key questions you were addressing in this article?

We are interested in the factors that lead to violence in society. Specifically, we are interested in how social (norms, expectations, ideologies), biological (hormones, brain area activation and connectivity) and psychological factors (perceived normative expectations, negative effects of social ostracism and/or rejection) might combine to produce retaliatory aggression in society by men.

What were the main conclusions of your article?

While previous research has examined various risk factors (provocation, expectations to behave aggressively, biological factors, lack of social support) that might contribute to reactive and/or retaliatory aggression separately, their combination (additive or even multiplicative) could help explain why so many violent aggressors in society are young men. Future research should be aimed at not just examining these factors separately, but in tandem, to test the model that we have outlined to explain protective and/or retaliatory aggression.

What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?

We have created an explanatory model to explain violence that is done to retaliate against a threat or insult. Specifically, we believe this model will inspire future research aimed at better understanding how various psychological, social, and biological factors combine, inciting aggression and violence. To this point, in masculinity and honor-based literatures, little has been done to connect biological, psychological, and social factors to explain these processes.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

Personally, I want to use our identified model to better understand school violence during adolescence. This is a time period where many children deal with rejection/ostracism/bullying (i.e., provocation, according to our model), are told to stand up for themselves (i.e., perceived behavioral expectation, according to our model), and are surrounded with messages of violence (toys, video games, guns) and strength (messages to be muscular and tough; i.e., behavioral capacity, according to our model). We predict these effects may combine with fluctuations in biology (such as those that happen during puberty; i.e., biological preparation, according to our model). Finally, these effects may be exacerbated by society stifling processes that could reduce the expression of aggression (such as social support, sharing of emotions, seeking mental health support; i.e., bypass suppression, according to our model). I hope to apply this to better understand how children internalize expectations to deal with bullies, but also to identify ways to break this cycle of violence and aggression - to better support children who are struggling with bullies in ways that do not simply promote more aggression.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?

My co-authors and I have studied masculinity and male honor for over a decade, and we noticed a cyclical pattern of aggression for men: society encourages aggression, then encourages violent responses to this aggression. Attempts by society to stifle this violence generally say, "don't bully," or "don't insult others". However, insults and bullying happen, and society does little to support those who are being victimized aside from encouraging them to stand up for themselves. We hope our research will be used not only to better understand these effects, but to also better support children and adults who are dealing with perceived provocation to interrupt this aggressive cycle and reduce violence. We further hope to work with schools in the future to identify ways that we can reduce expressions of violence after bullying, as well as students who are committing acts of bullying to better support children and adolescents and reduce the cycle of aggression.

Pictured (from left to right): Conor O'Dea, Ph.D., Elliot Jardin, Ph.D., and Don Saucier, Ph.D.

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