Rutgers study finds men tend to lie more to doctors due to preconceived notions
Men who ascribe to the cultural script of masculinity answer less consistently to doctors than women do, said Mary Himmelstein, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology.
Men who strongly endorse these ideas about masculinity are less willing to be candid with male doctors relative to female doctors because it violates masculine ideals, she said. They believe they have less to lose by displaying weakness to a woman.
But men who do not buy into these ideas about masculinity actually disclosed more consistently to men relative to women.
“Research tells us that men are the primary enforcers of gender violations among men. If one buys into masculine ideals, they believe that their masculinity can be lost and that they need to be tough, brave, not vulnerable and not weak,” she said in an email.
This can cause large consequences to men's health, she said.
"If men aren't honest with their doctors about their symptoms they might not receive adequate treatment. If they don't seek preventative care they may miss early indicators of heart disease, cancer or other serious health problems,” Himmelstein said.
Men are more likely to die of suicide than women, she said. Suicide rarely makes the top-10 list of causes of death for women, but regularly makes the top-10 list for men.
Men are also much more likely to die from unintentional injury relative to women, she said.
“The lifespan for men is about five years less than women, so men also die earlier," she said. "These gender differences are not accounted for by differences in biology between men and women. Rather, we would theorize that these disparities relate to masculinity as masculinity is associated with delays in seeking medical care, lower likelihood of seeking preventative care and risk taking."
Early socialization has long term impact on men’s health behavior. Men are socialized into masculinity very early with statements such as “man up” and “don't be a sissy," said Diana Sanchez, an associate professor in the Department of Social Psychology and member of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Research at Rutgers University.
“These messages imprint very early on boys," she said. "The most dire example of the impact this has on men’s health includes their early mortality rates. Men who endorse these masculinity beliefs tend to feel like their self worth is based on being self-reliant."
This results with them not engaging in or delaying preventative care, or if they see an injury or symptom they wait to see if it resolves itself before going to see a doctor. It can have these very negative costly outcomes, Sanchez said.
It is important that men are aware that this happens, she said. People also need to inform doctors that this is an issue, so doctors can use conversation or different methods to be able to elicit more accurate responses from their male patients.
“If you underreport your mental health issues or physical symptoms this can affect their prognosis, and specifically what kind of care they think you need and prescribe for you. And if you’re not giving them accurate information they can’t take care of your physical problems efficiently,” she said.
Encouraging men to find a doctor with whom they feel comfortable is really important, Himmelstein said. It is important to re-frame masculinity, and to teach men that taking care of themselves and their bodies is more important than putting on a tough front.
“I’m happy that people are interested in this work and becoming aware of some of the impediments of masculinity in a broad way because there are lots of different problematic outcomes associated with trying to be tough and self-reliant that way,” Sanchez said.
Sanjana Chandrasekharan is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in political science. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.