TL;DR: Published in more 17 peer-reviewed articles, Dr. Robert Peralta is a leading expert in the field of gender socialization, particularly in regards to alcohol and other drug use.
Dr. Robert Peralta may have started his academic career in psychology, but with a curiosity in how gender, race and social class shape behavior, he couldn’t hide his love of sociology for long.
And going on his 11th year as an associate professor at the University of Akron’s sociology department, he has the track record to prove it.
“I’m very interested in understanding how aspects of society shape individual behavior and how social structure mechanisms impact some of the public health and criminological concerns that we have, such as heavy episodic drinking, interpersonal violence and other forms of substance use such as non-medical prescription drug use,” he said.
One of Peralta’s primary research questions is “how do pressures to conform to things like gender expectations shape people’s probability of engaging in harmful health and criminal behavior?”
I spoke with Peralta to discuss one of his most innovative studies and how it’s shedding light on the role gender, and even sex, plays in alcohol-related violence.
The connection between gender and alcohol-related violence
In the paper “The Effects of Gender Identity and Heavy Episodic Drinking on Alcohol-Related Violence,” Peralta looked at three forms of violence:
- violence against intimates
- violence against strangers
- violence against friends
He surveyed 400 college-aged men and women, asking them to describe their own experiences with perpetrating and being a victim of violence and alcohol-related violence in particular.
Peralta also asked questions that would measure each participant’s gender orientation, including the perceptions they had of themselves.
Using these questions, he was able to separate masculine identities from feminine identities and incorporate those into a model that could predict heavy episodic drinking and alcohol-related violence.
And what he found was surprising.
While Peralta and his colleagues hypothesized that masculine-oriented persons (regardless of being male or female) would have an increased likelihood of engaging in alcohol-related violence, they found this wasn’t the case.
However, his results revealed that feminine characteristics (regardless of sex status (being male or female)) decreased the likelihood of engaging in alcohol-related violence.
“Our theories were only partially supported, but I think overall the paper opened up many more questions,” he said.
His main goal was to disassociate gender identity from sex category (male versus female status) and examine how those two aspects of identity affect how much people drink and how that might lead to violence.
“Gender is a sociological term that has to do with one’s gender socialization. People can have masculine or feminine characteristics regardless of their sex category,” he said. “Sex category has to do with your genitalia, your sex hormones, the biological aspects of sex. I think it’s important for researchers, scholars, clinicians, so on and so forth to really take into account the fact that gender orientation and sex are different and are having a different impact on health behavior.”
Getting the discussion going
While this particular paper has gotten a lot of exposure in clinical and academic settings, as well as Peralta’s classes, he wants to continue to expand his reach, including follow-up research.
His forthcoming study, which consists of 1,000 participants, looks more closely at the relationship between heavy episodic drinking and substance abuse and eating disorders and other weight-control behaviors, as well as the masculine and feminine characteristics that are predictive of this behavior.
“I think it’s making an impact, and I’m hoping this kind of outlet will further get the notice out that sex and gender matter when it comes to health behavior,” he said.
To learn more about Dr. Robert Peralta and his work, visit www.uakron.edu.