updated 6/23/2005 10:28:03 PM ET 2005-06-24T02:28:03

Forget that image of the swaggering, macho Italian. A new study suggests that American stereotypes about domineering Italian men don’t hold up.

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Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that Italian male university students seemed to have less traditional attitudes than American men when it came to views of masculinity.

“As predicted, the findings of this study cast doubt on the accuracy of prevalent American stereotypes of Italian males as patriarchal, macho, violent and domineering, the type of Mafioso image presented in ’The Sopranos’ and ’The Godfather,”’ the researchers reported. They had compared surveys of Americans to Italians and did not specifically study Italian-American men.

A group of 152 male students at public universities in Rome and Palermo, Italy, were asked to respond to statements developed in the United States to study traditional versus nontraditional attitudes about masculinity. The Italian group’s responses were less traditional on nine of 11 masculine norms.

The statements involved such areas as risk-taking and emotional control and included phrases such as, “Violence is almost never justified,” and “It is best to keep your emotions hidden.” Those surveyed chose answers that ranged from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”

Missouri graduate student David Tager collected the data on central and southern Italians while living in Rome in 2003. The findings were compared to a survey by others that looked at 752 American men.

The findings by Tager and Missouri associate professor of health and psychology Glenn Good will appear in the October issue of the Psychology of Men and Masculinity Journal.

Flirtatious, emotional
College men in Italy reported being less threatened by homosexuality and didn’t define their masculinity as much as the Americans surveyed in terms of having power over women, the researchers said.

Good and Tager speculated that the Italians may have reported being less threatened by homosexuals because the gay community is not as publicly visible as in the United States. And they wrote that Italian men “may not perceive themselves as having power over women because of the traditional power of women within the Italian family structure.”

The study did, however, provide some support to the playboy stereotype, “that of the flirtatious and emotional Italian male vying for the attention of a woman.”

Sociology professor emeritus Jerome Krase with City University’s Brooklyn College trained as a social psychologist and served as the former president of the American Italian Historical Association, a group that studies the Italian experience in the United States.

Krase noted the study wasn’t truly designed to prove or disprove stereotypes, but he liked the fact that the researchers had addressed their existence, and that they suggested more study of the topic would be useful.

He said many Americans don’t understand the complexities of Italy, such as a strong tradition of feminism and the nation’s current low birth rate, factors that could have an effect on Italian ideas about society, family and ultimately masculinity.

“It’s a good psychological study. Where I would fault it is if someone tried to present it as a very powerful study of Italian society,” he said.

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