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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1991 Dec;61(6):992-9.

Gender differences in ego defenses in adolescence: sex roles as one way to understand the differences.

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  • 1Boston University, Massachusetts.


Gender differences in ego defenses were hypothesized in adolescence, with greater internalization by girls and greater externalization by boys. Through the inclusion of sex role constructs (masculinity and feminity, agency and communion, and passivity-dependency), relational models as well as psychoanalytic theory were investigated as bases for sex differences. The Berm Sex Role Inventory and the Defense Mechanism Inventory were administered to 66 high school students (31 boys and 25 girls), ages 14-19. As expected, boys scored higher on projection and aggression-outward defenses and girls scored higher on turning against the self, but girls failed to exceed boys on reversal. Multiple regression supported sex roles as moderating variables in gender differences in defenses. Alternative reconceptualizations of sex roles supported aspects of both psychoanalytic and relational models as explanation of gender differences in defenses.

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