How much of a man are you? Being online can change that

October 11, 2013 by Evita March & Rachel Grieve, The Conversation
Levels of masculinity vary for men and women depending on if the questions are asked online or offline. Credit: Helga Weber

How masculine are you? This might seem a fairly simple question, especially if you're asked to fill out a simple ten-question survey investigating traits such as "aggressive" and "forceful".

But it may not be as straightforward as you think: your self-reported levels are not only a product of those personality traits, but also the method by which you're surveyed.

Along with colleagues, we recently published a paper in the journal Personality and Individual Differences which shows that people describe themselves as less masculine when completing an online questionnaire than they do when filling out a pen-and-paper version.

Online vs offline tests

Increased widespread access to the internet has led researchers to use the internet to collect data. It makes sense – benefits of conducting research online include:

But it appears that when filling out online questionnaires people are less likely to tailor their responses to what is considered socially desirable than they are when writing with pen and paper.

This can be attributed to people feeling more anonymous online.

Researchers are also aware of potential problems when conducting research online. Some of these problems include higher non-response rates and lack of experimental control. For example when someone is filling out a questionnaire online there is no way of controlling their environment. A respondent might be distracted by television or their kids and this could affect the result.

There is also concern that the structure of online surveys may not be equivalent with their offline counterpart. Specifically, does administering a questionnaire online affect the way it performs as a psychological survey?

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Research suggests it is important to not assume equivalence between online questionnaires and their offline counterparts. As these measures are being completed in different environments, this may produce different responses, so research should seek to establish equivalence with all online and offline measures before interpreting results.

Testing gender roles

Many surveys have already been assessed for online and offline equivalence. This includes personality measures, clinical measures and intelligence measures.

We sought to establish the online and offline equivalence of the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), a self-report test that measures or shows levels of masculinity and femininity. Although the Bem Sex Role Inventory is almost 40 years old, researchers consider it to be a good measure of .

Gender roles are considered to be socially defined appropriate behaviour for men and women. As contemporary research continues to use the Bem Sex Role Inventory to assess how people rate their gender characteristics, it is important to establish the equivalence of this measure online and offline.

We also decided to use the Bem Sex Role Inventory short-form instead of the full version, as the short-form has been found to be a more accurate measure of gender roles. Due to better accuracy, the short-form is more likely to be used in gender roles research.

We recruited 244 participants to complete the Bem Sex Role Inventory short-form online, and 128 participants to complete the Bem Sex Role Inventory short-form offline by pen and paper. The short-form contains ten items classified as masculine traits (such as "independent" and "assertive") and ten items classified as feminine traits (such as "sensitive" and "understanding").

We were interested in whether participants' masculinity and femininity scores would be the same online and offline. As online and offline equivalence has been established for a range of other surveys, we anticipated the scores would be equivalent.

We found no difference between online and offline femininity scores. But interestingly, masculinity scores were higher offline compared to online. These results were consistent for both men and women.

Anonymity and freedom

Why do people score higher in masculinity offline compared to online? We wondered if when people completed the measure offline, they may have been responding in a more socially desirable way.

Previous research has found that online responding increases feelings of anonymity, and people are more likely to be candid with their responses.

If people completing the measure offline were answering in a socially desirable manner, this means they were over-representing traits they believe to be socially desirable. This is interesting, as our findings suggest that masculine traits such as "defends own beliefs", "independent", and "assertive" are considered socially desirable in both sexes.

It is also possible that conceptualisations of masculinity may differ online and offline. If this is true, then this is an important result in itself, as the concept of masculinity changes in different environments. This result raises the question of whether people behave differently in online environments compared to offline environments.

If people do behave differently, this has potential consequences for researchers who do not establish equivalence of online and offline questionnaires. It cannot just be assumed that online scores will reflect offline scores.

Results of our study suggest that further research should explore how people's behaviour changes in different environments – specifically, how does the filter of online anonymity change our virtual character?

Explore further: 15% in US shun Internet; most intend to stay offline

Related Stories

15% in US shun Internet; most intend to stay offline

September 25, 2013
Despite a seemingly unstoppable move to digital lifestyles, some 15 percent of Americans don't use the Internet, and most are quite content to remain offline, a survey shows.

Meeting online leads to happier, more enduring marriages, study finds

June 3, 2013
More than a third of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online, according to new research at the University of Chicago, which also found that online couples have happier, longer marriages.

Online predators not distinctively dangerous sex offenders, study says

August 6, 2013
A new University of New Hampshire study challenges the view that online predators are a distinctly dangerous variety of sex offender, requiring special programs to protect youth.

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Moebius
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 12, 2013
I can tell you how much of a man some people are here, the ones that use sock puppets to vote peoples comments down, they aren't men. They aren't even women. They are a joke and they don't even know it :)
foolspoo
1 / 5 (1) Oct 14, 2013
Moebius, your ego precedes your lack of wit

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.